Police link shootings on 5-mile stretch of Ohio freeway

Saturday, November 29, 2003

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Gail Knisley was headed to a doctor's appointment on a freeway ringing Columbus when a bullet ripped through the driver's door.

"What was that?" she asked the friend driving, then she slumped forward, fatally wounded.

Authorities said for the first time Friday they had linked Knisley's death to at least one of 10 other reports of shots fired at vehicles along about a five-mile stretch of the same highway -- and they said the shooting was not an accident. Police won't use the term "sniper," but they say more of the shootings could 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 first reported shooting on the southern section of Interstate 270 or in its immediate area was in May. A second occurred in August and the rest have been in the last seven weeks. The shots have been fired at different times of day, piercing trucks, cars, vans and pickups, shattering windows and flattening tires -- and killing Knisley. The vehicles hit include a UPS delivery truck, a Coca-Cola truck and a horse trailer.

No one besides Knisley has been injured in the shootings. Two people contacted authorities Friday to report earlier shootings after realizing they may be part of a pattern.

Authorities have released few details, saying only that tests on the bullets connected Knisley's shooting on Tuesday to one of the others, though they wouldn't identify which one. They declined to speculate on the type of weapon used.

Franklin County Sheriff's chief deputy Steve Martin said it is unclear whether one shooter or more was involved.

Public's assistance sought

Authorities on Friday asked whoever is responsible to call the sheriff's office. Martin also said the public should watch for changes in the behavior of friends and relatives, such as missing work or appointments, showing excessive interest in the shootings or changing appearance.

Extra patrols have been assigned to the leg 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.

Edward Cable was headed home to southern Ohio through that area on Nov. 21 when he heard a 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 p.m. on Oct. 19 when his driver's side window exploded.

Briggs had just entered I-270 from U.S. 23 and was in the center of the three westbound lanes. He kept driving, assuming he had been hit by a rock, and turned on his dome light to search for the stone but couldn't find it. A few minutes later, stopped at a truck terminal, he discovered the bullet.

"It didn't miss my face but a couple of inches at most," said Briggs, a Vietnam veteran from 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 and was being chauffeured by her 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 go 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 Tuesday, a GMC Jimmy was hit nearby, deputies said. The same day a tractor-trailer driver for Coca-Cola Co. found a hole in the rear door of the trailer after making deliveries along I-270.

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.

Some who live, work and travel through the area say they are nervous.

Mary Hammond, 46, whose yard is 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.

Tom Milligan, 35, of Marysville said he found himself driving faster and "looking to the right and left, that's for sure. I'm not paying too much attention to the road."

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.

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 said he drove past the site of his shooting the next night and isn't afraid to travel there. "They didn't get me over there," he said, referring to the Vietnam War, "they're not going to get me here."

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