The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 8, 2013

Nicholas sheriff details shooting

Two deputies hurt; suspect, 84, killed

CRAIGSVILLE — For more than five hours, police tried to coax an elderly man into putting down his .12-gauge shotgun and leaving his besieged home peacefully.

Pleas broadcast repeatedly from a public address system went unheeded.

Three barrages of tear gas failed to force John Evans out.

A son living two houses down sought to talk his father into surrendering, but calls put to his cell phone went unanswered.

Not even a “robot” sent in by a State Police bomb squad prevailed. Evans took shots at it, as well.

When the dust finally settled on a muggy Saturday afternoon, the 84-year-old Evans was dead and two Nicholas County sheriff’s deputies were in a Charleston hospital with shotgun wounds, none considered serious.

“It was a bad situation,” Sheriff David L. Hopkins said Sunday. “It was a real tragedy in Nicholas County. I really hate that the gentleman was killed and that my deputies were injured.”

Trouble developed when Evans apparently had a falling-out with a neighbor, but just what provoked the dispute wasn’t known, the sheriff said.

Deputies were called by the neighbor, and when they arrived, Deputy Hansford “Buddy” Stapleton found Evans standing on his porch, cradling the shotgun. Stapleton got on his PA device and directed the gunman to surrender, but Evans stepped back inside.

About 50 yards away, the sheriff said, Stapleton started across the yard but Evans fetched the weapon and placed about 30 pellets in the officer, requiring surgery on his right knee.

Though bleeding, Stapleton raced behind the neighbor’s house, where another deputy met him, and the officers took up a defensive position, the sheriff recounted. An ambulance was summoned, and by now, a dispatcher had sent out a call for backups.

Hopkins pulled on his uniform and sped to the house, finding several Summersville city police officers there, and some state troopers. Before the siege ended, scores of police — among them some Division of Natural Resources officers — had joined the standoff.

“The first thing I did as I was going in, I noticed a man five or six houses back and I knew him,” Hopkins said. “I asked him if he knew Mr. Evans and he said he was usually a calm fellow.”

Hopkins then gave his consent to a son of Evans in a futile effort to contact him via cell phone.

“His dad never would answer the phone,” Hopkins said. “We tried for 15 or 20 minutes.”

Hopkins then got on a PA system in his cruiser, pleading with him for half an hour to give up.

“He would never give a response to anything we did,” the sheriff said.

After that failed effort, Hopkins said he took the son and his family to a safe area away from the standoff.

By then, more deputies had poured into the scene.

A state trooper from Webster Springs went around the back and peeked in a window, and Evans leveled the .12-gauge at him, barely missing the officer, Hopkins said.

“He almost took his head off,” the sheriff said. “Just missed him.”

Hopkins maneuvered toward the end of the house. Sgt. Richard “Tommy” Allison had taken a position in the front yard and Evans opened fire. Birdshot struck his weapon and deflected much of it, but four pellets struck him in the face and six more hit his shoulder. Another found an armpit since this wasn’t covered by his protective vest.

“When Officer Allison got shot the first time, he rolled back and Evans shot him twice more, but the vest caught it all except for one pellet around the belt region,” he said.

Hopkins and Deputy Timmy Withrow grabbed the wounded officer and dragged him behind the house.

“He was bleeding pretty badly from the face,” Hopkins said. “I got my handkerchief and held it down on his face. We got him up and one of the deputies took him around and we put him in an ambulance.”

Not one shot had been fired by police at this stage, Hopkins said. Instead, the officers retreated in a defensive mode.

“We think if we can shoot some tear gas canisters in the house, then he will become uncomfortable and hopefully come out peacefully,” Hopkins said.

Over the next two hours, this tack was tried. Three times multiple canisters were fired inside.

Evans was in no mood to give up, however, and, in fact, emerged from the back door and fired again. This time, police began returning fire, Hopkins said.

Repeatedly, the sheriff said, officers begged Evans to surrender with a promise that he would be taken to a hospital for care.

State Police even sent a 3-foot-tall robot with four wheels and a mechanical arm that enabled it to climb the steps on his porch. A loudspeaker attached to the device transmitted more pleas for Evans to stop firing, but his answer was a shotgun blast through the door, Hopkins said.

Hopkins said the robot, used by a bomb squad, tried to look inside the windows to get a position on the gunman, but all the shades were pulled down.

“We kept telling him, ‘Put your gun down and come out of the house,’ but he never responds,” the sheriff said.

“We know he’s hard of hearing, but you’ve got this machine on the front porch. Surely, he can hear this.”

The machine backs up and smashes a window beside the door.

“He starts shooting at the machine at the front window and everybody out front,” Hopkins said. “Lots of law enforcement is lying in the prone position. They’re returning fire at this time. Lastly, he comes out the back door and starts shooting and is shot.”

Hopkins said police tried every tactic available for a peaceful resolution, but Evans simply ignored all pleas to surrender.

“We’re not patient enough to let him shoot at us without returning fire,” the sheriff said.

Hopkins voiced gratitude to the numerous police officers who sought to defuse the situation and volunteer fire units who brought food and water in the lengthy confrontation.

“It was a collaborative effort,” the sheriff said.

“We continually tried to talk the man out. With an 84-year-old man, you want to get him out without hurting anybody.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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