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Hunch leads to highway sniper arrest


INDYSTAR.COM: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti...019/1006/NEWS01



By Tim Evans and John Strauss


5:57 update: Tip came from a deputy

A sheriff deputy's hunch led to the arrest today of a teenage hunter in the interstate sniper case, State Police Commissioner Paul Whitesell said.


Zachariah Blanton, 17, of Gaston in Delaware County was held today on murder, attempted murder and criminal recklessness charges. Blanton was held in the Jackson County Jail in Seymour, near the location where one motorist was killed and another wounded early Sunday.

Whitesell discussed the charges in a late afternoon news conference with Delaware County Sheriff George Sheridan and Gov. Mitch Daniels.


All three credited the public with responding to the police request for tips in the case.


“Without the alertness and volunteer cooperation of citizens in at least two places, this could not have been brought to as swift a resolution,” Daniels said.


Whitesell said the break in the case came when a reserve deputy from Delaware County spoke to an acquaintance of Blanton who was concerned about the teen.


“He (the acquaintance) was concerned about whether or not the suspect might have been involved,” Whitesell said. “The reserve deputy took that lamentation and called Sheriff Sheridan.”


5 p.m. update: Suspect is charged


Authorities have brought preliminary charges against Zachariah Blanton, 17, of Delaware County, in connection with Sunday's shootings on I-65.

A Jackson County judge found probable cause to issue a warrant for Blanton on three charges, including murder, attempted murder and criminal recklessness.

During a probable cause hearing this afternoon in Brownstown, investigators also presented testimony tying Blanton to the shootings in Delaware County, according to Jackson Superior Judge Bruce Markel III.


Markel said there was no testimony linking anyone else to the shootings.


3:41 update: News conference planned.


MUNCIE -- This afternoon Delaware County Sheriff's Department officials said there will be a news conference in Indianapolis about the highway shootings.

No time was given, but a deputy said the teenager being questioned was no longer being held in Muncie.

1st Sgt. David Bursten, spokesman for the Indiana State Police, declined comment on reports that police were questioning a person from Delaware County and that a weapon had been recovered.


“I know there has been a lot of rumor regarding the events of the day,” Bursten said in a statement.


“The investigation is ongoing. We are making progress.”


Earlier: Reports say police questioning teen

Police are questioning a Delaware County teen-ager in connection with the highway sniper case, sources said today.

There was no official confirmation from authorities, who have said they plan to strictly limit the amount of information released so as not to damage their investigation.


WTHR-TV (Channel 13), the Star’s newsgathering partner, quoted unnamed law enforcement sources as saying that a 17-year-old from Delaware County is being questioned and that a weapon has been recovered. It was not known whether the weapon was the one used to kill one motorist and injure another near Seymour early Sunday.


WRTV-TV (Channel 6) quoted an unnamed source familiar with the investigation as saying that investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were interrogating a 17-year-old from Delaware County with investigators from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department.


Authorities have said they are checking numerous rumors and tips – including tips that other shootings might occur in southern and northeastern Indiana. In northwestern Indiana today, a driver told police that a man shot at his car on the way to work in Hammond. The incident happened on a busy street about a mile from Interstate 94, the Associated Press reported. The driver was not injured. Lake County authorities reported the shooting to state police.


Closer to home, Indiana State Police said one motorist reported a possible sniper shooting at I-70 and Post Road in eastern Marion County this morning, but investigation revealed it was a not a shooting. A driver's window was broken by debris in the road.


Jerry L. Ross, 40, New Albany, was killed by a gunshot while traveling on I-65 just north of Seymour, and Robert Otto Hartl, 25, Audubon, Iowa, was treated after being hit by gunfire near the same location. The men were in southbound pickup trucks, and both shootings occurred at about 12:30 a.m.


Two hours later, a semi was hit by gunfire on I-69 near Muncie, and an unoccupied pickup truck was hit nearby in the same area. No one was injured in those shootings.


Staff writers Theodore Kim and Vic Ryckaert contributed to this report.

This story will be updated.



See also:

FBI Joins Indiana Sniper Investigation











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