The suspect who shot and killed a Pennsylvania police officer and wounded a second policeman over the weekend died himself Monday in a gunfight with lawmen who surrounded his house in Webster, Pa.
Eli Franklin Myers III, 58, died in a hail of gunfire after he exited his home on Logan Street, firing a large-caliber handgun at Special Response Team officers who had identified him as the suspect in the deadly police shooting the previous night.
East Washington police officer John David Dryer, 46, of Claysville, Pa., died two hours after being shot in the head at point-blank range after stopping a vehicle driven by Myers on Interstates 70-79 in Washington County in southwestern Pennsylvania late Sunday, authorities said.
Officer Robert Caldwell, who responded as a backup, was wounded before Myers drove off, triggering the dragnet that ended Monday. Caldwell, airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital, was listed in fair condition Monday.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Dryer stopped Myers’ minivan on the freeway, but after the traffic stop the officer quickly saw the driver had a gun on his lap. Authorities said Myers did not have a valid registration or proof of insurance.
When Dryer asked Myers to get out of the vehicle, the driver opened the door and fired once, hitting Dryer in the groin. As Caldwell took cover, authorities said Myers fired at least once, hitting him in the hand.
The suspect then walked over to where Dryer lay on the highway and shot him in the head, authorities said at a press briefing on Monday.
It wasn’t known if Myers produced a valid driver’s license or if his vehicle lacked legal license plates – hallmarks of antigovernment “sovereign citizens” who the FBI says pose a major threat to law enforcement officers making routine traffic stops. Initially, there was no hard proof specifically linking Myers to any antigovernment groups or movements, but associates describe him as a reclusive survivalist who loved firearms.
In recent years, Myers, himself a former police officer, had grown increasingly reclusive, loved antique firearms and looked like a “burly” survivalist, said West Newton Mayor Mary Popovich.
Myers also recently ended a long-term relationship with a woman she knows, Popovich said, at a loss to explain the reason behind that breakup.
“I knew him very well in my younger years,” Popovich told Hatewatch. While she worked for the West Newton ambulance service, Myers worked as a police officer. Popovich did not know why or when Myers left law enforcement work.
Neighbors, however, later told WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh that Myers had grown increasingly despondent since the death of his wife a year ago and had become known as a man “who could get you anything you wanted in terms of weapons and ammunition, including assault rifles,” the television station reported.
West Newton is about 12 miles from Webster, where Myers, who was single, lived and died in the shootout.
“I’ll tell you I just can’t believe that he even killed somebody,” Popovich said. “He was a gentle giant, but I guess people change.”
“When I knew him, he wasn’t this monster,”’ the West Newton mayor added. “For him not to have a driver’s license and no license plate on his car, as I’m hearing, that is uncharacteristic of the Eli Myers I knew.”
She said Myers belonged to the local Royal Order of the Moose and an antique firearms club, but she didn’t know if he also had ties to antigovernment groups or other extremist organizations.
But the nature of the crime brings to mind another fatal traffic stop on May 20, 2010, when Sgt. Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans of the West Memphis, Ark., police department were fatally shot in an attack captured on the police vehicle’s dashboard camera. The suspects in those shootings, Jerry Kane and his son, Joe, were sovereign citizens who believed they didn’t fall under state and federal laws requiring such things as driver’s licenses.
The Kanes later were tracked to a shopping center parking lot, where they were killed in a shootout with police.
The state of Pennsylvania is no stranger to police shootings carried out by antigovernment extremists.
In April 2009, Richard Poplawski killed three Pittsburgh police officers who responded to a domestic violence call at his Pittsburgh home.
Poplawski was a survivalist who held virulent antigovernment and white supremacist views, salted with a various conspiracy theories related to gun control, martial law, and the imagined concentration camps operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.