Source: Video courtesy of Rick McCoy, Van Wert
|A Spencerville man driving a stolen semi truck led authorities on a nearly two-hour chase Tuesday before authorities shot and killed him.
LIMA — Shotguns, rifles and tear gas were deployed by members of the Allen County SWAT team on the morning of Sept. 3 as a Spencerville man driving a stolen semi-tractor dangerously weaved his way across two counties and eventually to his death.
Allen County Sheriff Matt Treglia held a press conference Monday morning during which he offered some previously unreported details about the series of events that ended on that September morning, when SWAT officers shot and killed Terry Pierce Jr. in western Van Wert County.
Pierce, 46, led police on a two-hour chase that began when a Spencerville police officer observed the man driving a stolen semi tractor. That chase led to U.S. 30, with Pierce driving erratically and threatening to ram a school bus with the stolen semi and to harm others if police didn’t back away from the pursuit.
Treglia said four SWAT team officers discharged their county-issued service weapons, and another discharged tear gas through the use of a canister launcher in an effort to stop Pierce from harming members of the public. Previous efforts, including the use of “stop sticks,” had failed to get Pierce to halt.
The officers who fired their weapons were Sgt. Josh Bayer, Det. Corey Hanjora and deputies Justin Kirk and Barry Friemoth. All four were placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting and returned to work Friday after a special grand jury cleared them of any wrongdoing.
Treglia said that during the pursuit, Bayer “utilized a standard-issue SWAT rifle and standard-issue 12-gauge shotgun in several attempts to shoot out the tires of the semi-tractor. These shots were ineffective, and the investigation showed that at least some of these rounds were slowed or stopped by the tires’ mud flaps.”
Bayer was the front seat passenger in a patrol unit closest to Pierce “and was eventually burdened with firing the rounds directly at Pierce that caused Pierce to finally slow the semi at the end of the pursuit,” Treglia said.
As other members of the SWAT team approached the stopped semi, they observed Pierce moving about the cabin “in a way that caused them to believe he was either attempting to obtain a weapon or to regain control” of the semi, the sheriff said.
“Fearing for their own safety and the safety of others now stopped directly in front of the semi tractor … Friemoth, Kirk and Hanjora fired at Pierce, while a fourth SWAT office fired tear gas canister into the cab.”
“We are unable to determine exactly which SWAT officers’ rounds caused the death of Pierce,” the sheriff said, adding that 12 to 15 rounds fired by officers struck the cab of the semi during the event.
Major Todd Mohler, who ultimately authorized the use of deadly force by SWAT team members after Pierce began driving the wrong way on U.S. 30, said he was in constant contact with officers involved in the pursuit of Pierce from start to finish.
“I was in the dispatch room and was monitoring our detective, who is a trained hostage negotiator. From the statements made by Pierce to her, and from comments from our sergeants, once he (Pierce) said he would harm people, it was decided to make the call to go ahead and take the shots,” Mohler said.
Treglia said the officers involved in the shooting received counseling and added that he was confident all officers “have been able to seamlessly transition back into their normal assignments” upon returning from administrative leave.
“This was an incredibly unique situation that was rapidly evolving,” the sheriff said Monday. “With the criminal investigation complete, we will be ordering an internal investigation which will research all policy and personnel conduct matters related to this incident.
“However unfortunate, the decisions made and actions taken by my deputies during this incident saved innocent lives,” Treglia concluded.
The sheriff said no dashboard video of the pursuit is available from his department “as we were unfortunately in the middle of a nearly $110,000 software and hardware cruiser video upgrade” at the time of the incident.
Following the shooting, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation appointed the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a criminal investigation. Det. Brion Hannenkratt served as the lead investigator into the shooting. He compiled and submitted a report to Special Prosecutor Joe Burkhard, of Paulding County, who presented the case to a special session of a Van Wert grand jury.
Juror reportedly heard nearly two hours of testimony and quickly determined that four members of the SWAT team acted appropriately and within the scope of their duties when they shot and killed Pierce.
Read Sheriff Matt Treglia's report on the fatal shooting.
Sheriff Matt Treglia, of the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, addresses the press conference on Monday morning about a September fatal shooting by deputies of a man who erratically drove a stolen semi tractor.
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