Thursday, April 08, 2010
Blue Ridge Parkway shooter gave 'no rhyme or reason' for blasting strangers, sheriff says
The Augusta County sheriff said the shotgun and the car from the shootings were found at Ralph Jackson's home.
A tipster with intimate details of the Blue Ridge Parkway shotgun attack Monday led authorities to a mechanic who incriminated himself without a hint of why he shot two sunset-gazing strangers in the back, the Augusta County sheriff said.
Ralph Leon Jackson, 56, was arrested Wednesday by SWAT team deputies without a struggle at his home in Stuarts Draft, about 10 miles from the overlook near the parkway's northern end where a man and woman were shot two days earlier, Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher said.
Jackson implicated himself but didn't explain why he pulled into the Rock Point Overlook and shot two people from his car window, Fisher said.
"There was no rhyme or reason," said Fisher, who wouldn't talk about Jackson's mental condition. "We don't know why."
Searchers found ammunition, the shotgun and the car used in the shootings, leaving "no doubt we have in custody the April 5 shooter," Fisher said during a news conference. "The public can breathe somewhat easier."
Jackson will face charges of attempted capital murder, attempted murder and two counts of using a firearm in commission of a felony, Fisher said.
The shootings cast a chill over the 469-mile national parkway as tourist season begins in a year celebrating the road's 75th anniversary.
"I think people can feel comfortable that this situation is resolved and they can continue enjoying the parkway," said Steve Stinnett, the parkway's chief ranger.
The shotgun blast knocked Timothy Davis, a 27-year-old disc jockey for WNRN radio in Charlottesville, down an overlook embankment. He was in critical condition Wednesday at University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville. His companion, Christina Floyd, 18, of Fluvanna County was in fair condition and improving, Fisher said. Both were shot in the upper body.
Davis' voice is well-known to listeners of the radio station's evening program "The Boombox." He also helps with production and engineering, according to a statement from Maynard Snipe, chairman of the board of directors at the radio station.
Davis and Floyd had been sitting at the overlook with their backs to the road when investigators believe the gunman fired the first shot from his car, then got out.
Davis tumbled about 150 feet down the overlook and Floyd turned and fought the gunman, Fisher said. The shooter fired one more shot before fleeing, the sheriff said.
"If she had given up, she might be dead," Fisher said of the teenager.
Floyd flagged down a passing pickup truck, whose driver took her to safety.
Her bravery, and the passing motorists who helped her, were two of three actions that Fisher said led investigators to Jackson. The third was the tipster's message, which came to the Crime Stoppers tip line at 2 a.m. Wednesday.
"This is a perfect case where three sets of people did the right thing," Fisher said.
"It renews faith in humankind."
The tipster gave detailed information that only the shooter, or someone close to him, could have known, Fisher said.
Deputies staked out Jackson's home by 4 a.m. Jackson's wife went to work, and the SWAT team moved in at about 3:15 p.m., Fisher said.
Jackson didn't try to fight, the sheriff said.
Detectives will compare evidence in the parkway shootings with the unsolved slayings of Heidi Childs and David Metzler, Virginia Tech students who were shot in August while parked at a campground in the Jefferson National Forest in Montgomery County, Fisher said.
Jackson has at least one grown child, Fisher said.
Jackson's criminal history in Augusta County includes a 2002 conviction of driving after being declared a habitual offender, according to court records.
News researcher Belinda Harris contributed to this report.