Washington County officer killed after making routine traffic stop
Just after midnight Monday, Eli Franklin Myers III made a desperate call to his girlfriend to tell her he was in trouble. Big trouble.
Myers told Lynn Deicas of Charleroi that "he had shot a couple of cops," according to police records.
About 90 minutes earlier, along a heavily traveled stretch of Interstate 70 near Washington in South Strabane, Myers, 58, became "mouthy" with an East Washington police officer during a routine traffic stop for an expired registration sticker, police said.
When asked to step from the car, he snapped, firing a shot at part-time Officer John "David" Dryer, 46, hitting him in the left thigh. As Dryer's backup, Officer Robert V. Caldwell, also 46, turned to take cover, Myers turned the gun on Caldwell, striking him in the right hand. Caldwell switched the gun to his left hand and returned fire.
Myers turned back to Dryer, lying on the ground, and fired a fatal shot into Dryer's head before fleeing in his blue 2003 Dodge Caravan to his home about a half-hour away on Shell Street in Webster in Rostraver Township, police said.
It was there that Myers' rampage would end, shortly after 9:30 a.m., when a police sharpshooter killed him as he brandished a gun in the yard of the ramshackle, garbage-filled home once owned by his late father, police said. Before being downed by the sharpshooter, Myers, 58, fired a shot at police but did not injure anyone, officials said.
It was the culmination of a nearly 10-hour standoff in which the man described by friends as a quiet gun collector with an "arsenal" of weapons would die from multiple gunshot wounds, according to Westmoreland County Deputy Coroner John Ackerman. Those friends said that in recent weeks, Myers was hobbled by health problems after injuring both legs in a fall at home.
"It's sad, man," Washington County Sheriff Samuel Romano said. "You think it's a routine stop, but you never can tell what's routine, you never know what's going to happen. Nothing is routine.
"East Washington is a little community; when something like this happens, it affects the whole community, the whole county," he said. The usually quiet town of 1,900 residents has a police department with a full-time chief and 15 part-time officers, shaken recently by the indictment of police Chief Don Solomon on federal corruption charges.
Dryer called for backup after Myers became agitated during the traffic stop about a half-mile east of the Beau Street interchange Sunday night, Washington County District Attorney Steve Toprani said. It was through Dryer's description of Myers' vehicle that police were able to track him to Webster.
"Law enforcement suffers today. But today, I think we saw the best in law enforcement" in tracking down Myers, Toprani said.
Caldwell, a retired state trooper, was in fair condition last night in Allegheny General Hospital, North Side.
"The only thing that kept him alive was his training," Romano said. "He almost lost a couple fingers, but it looks like he's going to keep them."
Passers-by became involved in the incident after Dryer was shot.
Tow truck driver Leroy Marker, co-owner of Rusty's Towing in Washington, arrived moments after the shooting, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Marker was summoned to tow Myers' 2003 Dodge Caravan at Dryer's request, according to police.
As Marker approached, he saw Dryer on the ground.
"I got to get out of here," Myers said to Marker.
"No, you're not," Marker replied, according to police.
Marker punched out the side window of the van and reached in to stop Myers, to no avail.
"It was an experience. ... I'm still shaken up," Marker said yesterday.
Dryer, a well-known veterinarian who had a 17-year-old son, Ben, was supposed to end his shift at midnight.
Tom Plevin, 64, of Uniontown was driving home when he came upon the shooting scene, surrounded by a dozen police cars.
He said an officer was frantically performing chest compressions on the victim, who was pronounced dead in Washington Hospital at 1:04 a.m.
Those who knew Myers said they were shocked that the former officer would turn on one of his own.
Mary Popovich, mayor of West Newton, where Myers worked as an officer until 1980, said she knew him as an avid hunter who was proficient with weapons.
"I'm shocked. Absolutely shocked out of my socks," she said. "I never knew him to have violent behavior. Being that he was an officer, I can't imagine him wanting to shoot another officer. ... Once you're an officer, there's a brotherhood that usually exists. That's why I'm floored."
Diane Stetler of Rostraver said Myers, a quiet man who kept to himself, was a longtime friend of her husband's.
"This man has been a gun collector for years and years and years," she said. "He has an arsenal."
Neighbor Michael Lawson said Myers moved into the home that belonged to his parents around the time Myers' father died in July 2009.
Former Pittsburgh police Officer Phil Dacey, who belonged to the Pennsylvania Gun Collectors Association with Myers, said "he'd be the last guy to flip out. He's a quiet, low-key guy."
Dacey said he last saw Myers on Wednesday at the group's meeting in Jeannette, where he noticed that Myers was gaunt and gray, and had great difficulty getting in and out of his car. He was so weak that his girlfriend drove him to the meeting, Dacey said.
Myers' girlfriend could not be reached for comment.
On Sept. 3, Rostraver police stopped Myers for driving with no insurance and no registration. On Nov. 16, Myers was ordered to pay about $467 in fines and costs, court records show.
On Sunday night, Dryer stopped Myers for the same offenses.
The usual quiet of Myers' neighborhood was shattered as local, state and federal authorities swarmed over the area and helicopters hovered overhead.
Firefighters blocked the main road leading into the former coal-mining town across the Monongahela River from Donora. Ambulances were positioned around the village as Belle Vernon Area School District called off classes for the day.
Lawson said he woke up about 1 a.m. and saw SWAT team members positioned around Myers' house.
"I saw them shooting up the house with all the gas, over and over, at every window, they just kept shooting (it in), trying to gas him out," Lawson said.
He said a SWAT team went into the house and he heard a shot fired before officers came out of the house. About an hour later, Myers came out of his house.
"They kept saying, 'Don't shoot us. ... Leave the gun in the house. It's for your own safety,' " Lawson said. About 10 seconds later, Lawson said he heard one gunshot, followed by two more shots.
"I''m glad they got him," Lawson said. "I hope no one else from his family moves in."
Staff writers Amanda Dolasinski, Kari Andren, Richard Gazarik, Renatta Signorini, Chris Foreman and Chris Togneri contributed.