BY JOHN McCARTHY|
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A friend was driving Gail Knisley to the doctor when she made a wrong turn. She turned around, and minutes later a bullet ripped through the driver's door, killing Knisley.
Edward Cable was headed home to southern Ohio after helping out at a family business when he heard a strange noise in his minivan. He found a bullet hole and shell fragment about 16 inches behind the driver's seat.
Trucker William Briggs was hauling two empty trailers back from Roanoke, Va., about 11:30 one night when his driver's side window exploded. The Vietnam veteran sped away based on his training to drive through an ambush.
The Franklin County Sheriff's Office said on Friday that authorities have been investigating 11 reports of shootings along about a five-mile stretch of highway circling the city. Authorities say the shooting of Knisley -- the only person hit by a bullet -- wasn't accidental and is linked to at least one other case.
Police won't use the word "sniper" but say more shootings may be connected.
"You just can't believe someone would be sick enough to be shooting at cars," Missi Knisley, Knisley's daughter-in-law, said Friday. "It's a nightmare."
The shootings on or around a southern section of Interstate 270 began in May. The shots have been fired at different times of day, piercing trucks, cars, vans and pickups, shattering windows and flattening tires. One vehicle was a UPS delivery truck.
Authorities have released few details, saying only that tests on the bullets connected two shootings and declining to speculate on the type of weapon. Police did not identify the shooting linked to Knisley's.
Authorities on Friday asked whoever is responsible to call the sheriff's office.
Chief Deputy Steve Martin also advised the public to watch for changes in the behavior of friends and relatives and note if someone is missing work or appointments, shows excessive interest in the shootings or changes appearance.
It's unclear whether there is one shooter or more, Martin said.
"I'm not in a position where I can tell you exactly what happened, whether someone was stationary or mobile when any of these shots were fired," he said Thursday.
Extra patrols have been assigned to the section of the highway, also called Jack Nicklaus Highway after the pro golfer from suburban Dublin. The route runs through a sparsely populated area that includes woods frequented by hunters and people practicing target shooting.
Industrial sites line part of the stretch, along with some residential neighborhoods. A shopping mall and public golf course are nearby.
Nearby residents expressed concern but not fear.
Mary Hammond, 46, whose house sits next to the highway, said Friday that she and her husband are taking back roads to get to work now. "I've got two kids to raise," she explained.
Next door, Helen Speakman said she was not afraid and was not about to change her daily routine because of random events.
"You never know what's going to happen, no matter where you live," she said through her storm door. "We're living in a bad time."
Briggs, 56, had driven about a mile on I-270 after entering from U.S. 23 on Oct. 19 when the shot was fired. He was in the center of the three westbound lanes.
Driving away, he turned on his dome light but couldn't see what he thought was a rock. A few minutes later, at the Yellow Transportation truck terminal, he found the bullet after realizing his passenger door wouldn't open.
"It didn't miss my face but a couple of inches at most,'' said Briggs, of suburban Hilliard. "It was really luck on my part and ineptness on his part."
Knisley, a homemaker who lived about 40 miles away from Columbus, didn't like to drive in the city so she was being chauffeured Nov. 25 by her best friend, Mary Cox. After Knisley's checkup following minor surgery on skin cancer lesions on her nose, the two had planned to go to lunch and Christmas shopping.
They were talking when they heard a pop.
"What was that? What was that?" Knisley, 62, said before slumping forward, according to the recording of Cox's 911 call.
Hours later, a GMC Jimmy was hit on I-270 west of I-71, deputies said.
Martin said the task force has received more than 150 tips. Department crime analysts also are reviewing this year's more than 1,000 vandalism reports to see if any fit the pattern, police spokesman Sgt. Brent Mull said.
Cable, 53, is leery of returning to Columbus but said he will keep making the 75-mile drive from his home in Lucasville.
The retired prison guard travels often to his daughter's suburban home north of Columbus to help her and her husband with their construction business and see his two grandsons. He was heading home from a two-day visit when his minivan was shot on Nov. 21.
Cable said Friday that news of the linked shootings gave him hope a perpetrator would be found.
"They don't know exactly what they're looking for, but it gives them a lot better idea and will help direct them with their investigation," he said.
Briggs drove past the site of his shooting the next night and isn't afraid to travel the outerbelt.
"They didn't get me over there, they're not going to get me here," he said, referring to Vietnam. "Being shot at once -- the odds are astronomical it's going to happen twice."