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Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

Pepper spray ends armed standoff

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

LABEL: Charges filed

By Sam Blackwell ~ Southeast Missourian

The fear that someone might die was in the air Monday night at the Pinewood Mobile Home Park.

After breaking into a mobile home, a highly agitated Dax Justin May spent the next 7 1/2 hours threatening police, firing seven shots from a 12-gauge shotgun and high-powered 7 mm Mauser and refusing to talk with a negotiator, police said.

Shots just missed police officers and a family who had refused to leave their nearby residence.

The Myrtle Beach, S.C., man finally gave up at 5 a.m. Tuesday after police shot pepper spray canisters into the mobile home. Before emerging from the front door in a glare of spotlights, he asked for assurances that officers would not shoot him.

A few hours later, Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle charged May with the felonies of assault of a law enforcement officer in the first degree, assault in the second degree, property damage in the first degree, burglary in the first degree and armed criminal action. His bail was set at $500,000.

May escaped death during the standoff only because a Cape Girardeau police SWAT team and a sniper brought in could not get a clear shot at him. After hours of police demands for May to step out of the mobile home with his hands in the air and an exchange of gunfire at one point, SWAT team leader Lt. Roger Fields gave the order to shoot him if given the chance.

At 3:06 a.m., Capt. Carl Kinnison passed it on to the SWAT team over the radio: "If you have a shot, you have a green light," he said.

Kinnison and police chief Steve Strong were standing next to Fields and concurred with the decision. "We knew he was shooting at us. He was putting not only our officers but other people in jeopardy," Strong said afterward.

Almost miraculously, the long night ended with just a single injury to an officer cut by flying glass.

"When it comes out nobody gets hurt, it's successful," said Strong, who was on the scene all night and still had not slept by Tuesday afternoon.

Guns in home

The mobile home May is accused of breaking into is owned by brothers Mitch McElroy and Ronald Barton. It contained three guns: a high-powered 7 mm Mauser, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22 automatic rifle, along with plenty of ammunition.

Doug Esham, who lives across the street, also waited out the night near the entrance to the mobile home park. Esham had called 911 at the urging of his brother Tim Bell. As Esham was phoning, Bell saw a man kick in the trailer door.

Patrolman Randy Zimmerman was met with a threat when he approached and, 20 seconds later, heard a shotgun blast.

May reportedly told police he had taken hostages, which turned out to be untrue. Police cleared the streets around the mobile home and tried to evacuate people from nearby residences, although some refused to leave.

Police attempts to talk to May were thwarted after a first phone call because he apparently threw the phone down, leaving the line open.

McElroy waited behind the police tape and diagrammed for Kinnison the layout of the mobile home park. He was worried about his 6-month-old puppy, Max.

The mobile home was surrounded by a SWAT team of eight officers who rotated with another team periodically to stay fresh during the long standoff on the cold, clear night.

A shot came from the trailer about 1 a.m., another at 1:15. "This is his only response to negotiations," Strong said at the time.

More shots were heard about 15 minutes later. "The individual in the trailer is carrying on a conversation. Don't know if it's with himself or someone else," the police radio crackled.

May turned the back porch light on and a few minutes later turned it off. One of the SWAT team members saw him moving around inside the trailer in an agitated way.

"He's preparing to come out, and it sounds like he's gonna be ready for battle," one reported over the radio.

"If he comes out, don't let him back in the home," came the command. But May didn't come out then.

Dire prediction

A sniper who had been summoned walked toward the scene carrying a long case. He said he didn't think the situation was going to turn out well.

A danger inherent in the situation was the lack of protection mobile homes offer from high-powered rifles. "Shooting through a mobile home is like shooting through a beer can," Strong said.

At one point, a shot 3 feet over the head of patrolman Brent Steger passed through a mobile home occupied by a family who had refused police urging to evacuate, shattering a window. Glass from the window fell on a police command site, injuring Kinnison. After the siege was over, he went to a hospital to have glass surgically removed from his neck.

Police were wary of their own shots in the mobile home park.

"We were also concerned because we knew some of our weapons could do some of the same things his were," Strong said.

Using a bullhorn, police negotiator Sgt. Rick Schmidt attempted to talk May out of the trailer throughout the night. Schmidt repeated the same demand 50 times or more: "Subject in the trailer. Come out on the front porch with your hands up. Do it now!"

Kinnison told Schmidt to ask the intruder for his first name. There was never any response.

Surrender demands were followed by long periods of silence when officers could hear May moving around, cursing and making threats.

At one point they heard the sound of rounds being chambered and more profanity. Just after 3 a.m., May shattered the south window of the trailer.

At 3:22 a.m., more gunshots sounded, perhaps from police.

Strong was reluctant to use tear gas because it could set afire a trailer police knew contained more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition. But that worry was overtaken by another.

Birds were chirping and daylight was coming on. Strong's officers and others still in the mobile home park would be much more exposed.

When the order to use tear gas and pepper spray came just after 4 a.m., the tear gas canisters fired by officers either bounced off the trailer's windows or missed, possibly because they had an aluminum covering and the officers couldn't get close. But the pepper spray did not miss. Police fired a flash-bang cartridge at the mobile home to create a distraction before shooting the gas canisters.

Max the puppy was retrieved from the mobile home afterward unharmed.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182


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