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Published: Saturday, 8/11/2001

Police slay suspect in Michigan killing

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ADRIAN - A man who was suspected of killing his grandfather was shot to death by police yesterday afternoon after they went to a local motel to question him.

Justin Olmstead, 20, was shot by Michigan State Police officers after he opened fire on them at the Days Inn motel.

The Adrian man was a suspect in the slaying of his grandfather, Lavern Olmstead, 68, who was found dead in his Raisin Township home early Thursday afternoon.

Investigators were led to the motel on West Maumee Street at 3:30 p.m. after finding the elder Olmstead's car - a blue-gray Oldsmobile Allero with a front vanity license plate that says “Vern” - in the motel's parking lot.

Officers secured the area and tried to make contact with the suspect, who was in one of the rooms.

The young man opened fire and was killed before being questioned. No officers were wounded in the exchange.

“My dad used to say how Justin was the only 20-year-old who still hugs and kisses his grandpa. My dad was so proud of that,” said a distraught Kimberly Digangi, 43, of Adrian, who was making funeral arrangements for her father when she heard of her nephew's death.

“How can Justin do this to my dad?” she asked. “I just can't believe it.”

Mrs. Digangi said she was told other suspects were being questioned about her father's slaying, but she had no other information. Officers at the Adrian post did not release any additional details.

“We'll never know from Justin what his side of it was,” Mrs. Digangi said. “I guess the other suspects will have to fill in the blanks.”

The young man's mother, Colleen Olmstead, could not be reached yesterday.

Neighbors became concerned about Lavern Olmstead because he had not been seen for several days.

Mr. Olmstead was a man of habit, they said. So when newspapers started piling up at his front door and his car hadn't been seen driving through the mobile-home community, they believed something might be wrong.

Police were called to the Raisin Valley Estates mobile-home park at 2:15 p.m. Thursday after a neighbor crawled through the window into Mr. Olmstead's home and found his body.

Family members said he had been dead for several days before he was found. Sgt. Greg Sebring of the Adrian post declined to release information about the cause of death. He said the small mobile-home park, about five miles north of Adrian, usually is a quiet area. “This is a very rural area, and it's unusual to have any violent crime,” he said.

Mrs. Digangi said she was driving by her father's home on North Adrian Highway Thursday when she noticed emergency vehicles in the area.

Mr. Olmstead's mobile home, the first in the lot, seemed to be the focus of attention.

At first, Mrs. Digangi suspected that her father had suffered a heart attack. But then she learned the truth - that he had been slain.

The death marks the third tragedy the Olmstead family has faced within the year. Mr. Olmstead's two sons died within six months of each other from heart failure.

Wayne Olmstead, 46, died in June, 2000. His brother, Lyndon, 45, died in December.

“I was looking at photos of my mother and brothers, and I just thought, my dad's with them,” Mrs. Digangi said. “He has missed them for so long, and now he's with them.”

A retired Tecumseh Products factory worker, Mr. Olmstead had lived in Raisin Valley Estates since 1979. His family said severe arthritis in his knees and diabetes forced him to retire early.

Despite living on a modest Social Security income, Mr. Olmstead had little to take. But the well-known neighborhood man offered as much as he could to others.

His family said his bedroom was lined with steel shelves holding boxes and cans of food for any neighborhood family or friend who needed them.



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