Police question man, search school records and ask for info on cars in Ohio shooting probe

| 1/6/2004

Members of a Columbus family have been questioned and at least one of their cars searched as police continue to pursue leads in the investigation into a series of shootings along Interstate 270 near Columbus, OH, The Associated Press reported.

One member of the family, James Gearheart, has been questioned twice by law-enforcement officials. According to The AP, he is a former prison inmate. He told the Columbus Dispatch he offered to take a polygraph to clear his name.

Gearheart is among hundreds of people questioned by the task force investigating the shootings. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, which is leading the effort to solve the case, has received more than 3,100 tips; investigators told the Dispatch they had received several calls about the local resident.

Police are also looking at the records of schools in the area, WLWT TV reported, specifically focusing on disciplinary and attendance records.

The TV station said officers would not discuss the results of that search. At least one of the bullets linked to the shootings struck a school near I-270.

The department has also asked the public for help in finding several cars seen at a Speedway gas station near the site of one of the other shootings. The owner of one of the vehicles, a large work van, has contacted police, but no one has yet identified three others. They are:

  • A late ‘80s to early ‘90s Nissan Stanza station wagon;
  • An ’86 to ’95 Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable; and
  • A ’93 to 2000 Cadillac Seville or a ’93 to ’94 Chevrolet Lumina.

Eighteen shootings have taken place in Columbus, OH, since May. Authorities say the shootings – all at or near the southwestern part of I-270, a loop highway surrounding Columbus – are linked.

Only one bullet hit a human target. It struck and killed area resident Gail Knisley Nov. 25, just before the Thanksgiving holiday. Knisley was riding in the car of a friend who was taking her to see a doctor. A pickup truck was hit just a few hours later nearby. Other bullets have hit a school and other cars.

At least five commercial motor vehicles have been hit by bullets, according to police and press reports, including a Yellow Freight truck, a UPS delivery truck, a Coca-Cola truck, an 18-wheeler out of Texas and the Virginia-based rig.

The reward being offered for information that leads to an arrest in the case has since risen to $60,000.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department has put out public alerts asking the shooter or shooters to contact them and start a dialog. In addition to the hotline set up for tips - (614) 462-4646 – the Sheriff’s Department has also set up a post office box for the shooter to use to contact authorities. It is PO Box 360562, Columbus, OH, 43236-0562.