Ohio man opens fire on officers, commits suicide

By Randy Ludlow, Theodore Decker and Kathy Lynn Gray
Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was, Columbus police suggested, an afternoon of miracles in which neither officer nor innocent died amid the flying bullets of a firefight in the University District.

A suspected drunken driver abandoned his car and ran yesterday afternoon, shooting two officers, one in the face and one in the chest. Both survived.

After escaping to his apartment at 1919 N. 4th St., Jason Farnsworth broke out the big stuff shortly after 3:45 p.m., authorities say.

He turned sniper, firing a high-powered rifle at officers, who responded with shotgun blasts and rifle rounds of their own for more than 30 minutes.

Bystanders counted multiple exchanges of shots, one volley perhaps numbering more than 20. Police were so concerned about the frequency and velocity of Farnsworth's gunfire that they rerouted airplanes flying to Port Columbus.

Meanwhile, motorists caught in their cars on 4th Street huddled behind the vehicles for cover and then, during a break in the shooting, crawled and ran to safety.

The shooting eventually gave way to silence. SWAT officers surrounded the building and used a bullhorn to call for Farnsworth to surrender. There was no response for more than two hours.

First to go in the apartment was the Police Division's bomb robot, operated remotely and finding no movement. SWAT officers followed.

Farnsworth, 37, was found dead, even as some of his frightened neighbors still hid in the building's basement.

He apparently had shot himself, said Sgt. Rich Weiner, a Police Division spokesman. Inside was what police described as an impressive cache of weapons.

And yet, no citizens were hurt and the two officers shot by Farnsworth will survive.

A bullet entered the face of one officer and lodged near his ear. The other took a shot to the chest, his bullet-resistant vest slowing the round enough that it stopped right at his skin, police said.

Both were taken to Ohio State University Medical Center. The officer who was shot in the face was expected to be released in a day or two, and the other officer as soon as overnight. Police did not release their names but said they are younger officers.

"It's a miracle," Weiner said. "We got so lucky today."

Local court records did not suggest Farnsworth was capable of such violence. He had a few traffic tickets, but nothing serious. The former Canal Winchester resident struck his neighbors as unremarkable, just a typical guy who doted on his dog, a female pit bull.

Weiner said police first received a 3:22 p.m. call from a motorist on I-71 about a possible drunken driver heading north. The driver got off at E. Broad Street but drove right back onto the freeway.

A cruiser followed the car north on I-71, observing Farnsworth's driving. At some point, officers tried to stop the blue 1991 Geo Prizm.

They followed his car onto 17th Avenue and toward N. 4th Street.

"That's where everything goes bad," Weiner said.

"You've got what appears to be a traffic stop, and some officers initially needing help, and then all hell breaks loose," said Sgt. Jim Gilbert, president of the local police union.

Details remained muddled yesterday, but police said Farnsworth pulled over, pulled out a pistol, shot the officers, then ran to his apartment at 1919 N. 4th St.

"We don't know if this was a running gunbattle," Weiner said. "We have some officers that returned fire."

One witness saw Farnsworth use his pistol to break a window and enter his apartment as police cars raced up N. 4th. Officers and motorists caught on the street soon were diving for cover as Farnsworth began firing the rifle from his apartment.

"We got reports he was shooting from upstairs, from downstairs, from the front of the apartment, from the back of the apartment," Weiner said. Citizens cowered in their cars while officers scrambled for cover, unable to quickly ascertain where the gunfire was coming from.

"They were ducking and crawling," Weiner said.

"Several officers had to be rescued by the SWAT vehicles," Gilbert said.

"We have cruisers that are shot up, we have civilian vehicles that are shot up," said Deputy Chief Stephen Gammill. Gammill said the gunfire so concerned police that they had Port Columbus air-traffic controllers steer planes away from normal flight paths over the neighborhood.

Cody Aberman, 22, a Columbus State Community College student, said he was with a buddy in his apartment, just next to Farnsworth's, when they heard breaking glass. They looked outside to see Farnsworth using a pistol to break his own window and enter his apartment. The shooting soon began.

More shots quickly convinced the men to run to the basement and hide while keeping in touch with a police sergeant by cell phone. At one point, Aberman thought he heard someone fall and then heard moaning.

Aberman had just moved in a week ago but had introduced himself to Farnsworth, who struck him as an average guy.

John Scurry never expected such a traumatic drive to work. The London, Ohio, resident was driving to work at Kroger in Clintonville when a couple of police cars raced past him on N. 4th Street. He saw another coming and pulled over.

Officers, their guns drawn, were advancing toward the building where Farnsworth was holed up. Gunshots sent one officer diving to the pavement in the middle of the street while another ran for cover.

Scurry, 35, threw himself over the passenger seat and waited. When the shots stopped, he popped open the passenger door and hid behind his car. South of him, officers huddled behind vehicles with their guns drawn.

About a minute later, he said, more than 20 shots rang out. Then, he chanced running to the officers hiding behind him. The officers told Scurry, still in the line of fire, to run to safety among other officers on the west side of the street.

"It was unreal the adrenaline was really flowing," Scurry said. "Running across that street really freaked me out."

Franklin County coroner employee Nate Thomas' trip to his office, with a body in the back of his van, also was interrupted by the gunfire. He huddled behind the wheel on 4th Street until officers screamed at those trapped in their cars to get out and run.

"I crawled," he said. "I stayed low.

"Very low," he emphasized.

Weiner said the shooting emphasized how a simple traffic stop can turn bad in a hurry, and how fortunate the Police Division has been when it comes to officer safety. Last December, Officer Ryan Chrysler was shot point-blank in the face while investigating a gun call, the round entering his chin and exiting his jaw. He has returned to duty, surviving a wound much like the one suffered by the officer yesterday.

"We're going to go and count our blessings tonight, that's for sure," Weiner said.

Copyright 2009 Columbus Dispatch

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