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Published: Saturday, 1/24/2004

Fingerprint reportedly found at I-71 scene

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Michael Thomas clears his windshield, which was hit by a bullet Thursday near Columbus. Michael Thomas clears his windshield, which was hit by a bullet Thursday near Columbus.
JAY LAPRETE / AP Enlarge

COLUMBUS - As he headed home from work along I-71, Michael Thomas saw a person standing on an overpass in front of a parked car. Seconds later, he heard a loud sound and the passenger side of his windshield was cracked.

In his rearview mirror, Mr. Thomas could see the large four-door sedan on the overpass speed away.

Mr. Thomas, 30, got off I-71, stopped at a convenience store, told the clerk: “The sniper just shot at me,” and asked her to dial 911.

Authorities said yesterday the gunshot that struck Mr. Thomas Chevrolet Corsica at about 12:45 a.m. Thursday is the 20th in a series of shootings that started in May, 2003.

“This guy is crazy. I m very scared,” Mr. Thomas said.

He said investigators told him they recovered a fingerprint and two shell casings on the I-71 Lambert Road overpass south of Columbus near the Pickaway County line, but a task force investigating the shootings refused to confirm that account.

Mr. Thomas said because he was driving about 65 mph, he did not get a description of the person and didn t see the weapon, which he presumes was a rifle. The gunshot struck the hood of his car and then hit the windshield.

The shooting sent a fresh wave of fear through the Columbus area because it occurred 71/2 miles south of the I-270 south outer belt, where most of the shootings have occurred.

The shooter has fired into an empty elementary school, houses, and at two school buses, forcing one of the region s largest school districts to close for two days before the December holiday break.

The shootings include one fatality - the Nov. 25 death of Gail Knisley, a Washington Court House resident, as a friend drove her to a doctor s appointment.

Police said they would increase marked and unmarked patrols along I-71 in southern Franklin County.

Detectives said yesterday they could not link the gunshot fired at Mr. Thomas car ballistically because they did not recover bullet fragments that could be linked to the weapon used in the fatal shooting of Mrs. Knisley and in six other shootings on or near the southern outer belt.

“The task force is comfortable in linking this case because of evidence recovered at the scene and its relationship to other previously recovered evidence,” said Chief Deputy Steve Martin of the Franklin County Sheriff s Department.

Investigators didn t refer to any evidence recovered when a car hit by a bullet at about 2:15 a.m. Jan. 11 on the south outer belt was listed as the 19th shooting in the series.

That bullet also hit a car s hood and struck the windshield, but investigators said traces of bullet fragments in the hood weren t enough to link that shooting to the same weapon used to kill Mrs. Knisley.

Chief Deputy Martin said authorities have received 3,640 calls on a sheriff s department tip line, and 765 included citizens providing names of people they think might be involved or could have information.

“Many, but not all, of the individuals mentioned have been eliminated as suspects,” he said.

When reminded that nearly two months have passed since Mrs. Knisley s death, Chief Deputy Martin interrupted a reporter to say: “Sixty days today.”



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