Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Former Trooper Linked to Homicidal Crime Spree

A former Utah state trooper who attempted suicide during a standoff appears to be behind a shooting rampage that left two drivers dead during Monday evening's rush hour in Garland and northeast Dallas, police said Tuesday.
Dallas police said they have preliminarily matched ballistic evidence recovered after Brian Smith, 37, fired a bullet into his head in Garland early Tuesday with evidence in the fatal freeway shooting of truck driver William Scott Miller, 42.
Dallas police said they moved quickly to establish the link, in part because of growing concerns from the public that a killer randomly targeting motorists might be on the loose.
"It is safe to be out and about doing your Christmas shopping," homicide commander Lt. Craig Miller said. "Go about your business as normal."
Mr. Smith, who was also wanted on arrest warrants for robbery and burglary in Southlake, was on life support Tuesday night at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Garland police stopped short of a similar link in the slaying of Jorge Lopez, 20, of Rowlett, who was shot north of LBJ Freeway minutes before Mr. Miller.
"Do things point in his direction? Yes, they do, but we want to prove that forensically and we just don't feel we've got enough evidence to say forensically, for sure, that's him," said Officer Joe Harn, Garland police spokesman.
Mr. Smith resigned from the Utah Department of Public Safety in May for drinking in his patrol car and theft.
He moved to North Texas and was suspected in several crimes, including a robbery at a Kroger pharmacy at Walnut Street and Garland Avenue shortly before the shootings were reported Monday night.
Police were called to the store about 5:30 p.m. after a man who identified himself as Brian Smith, armed with a handgun, jumped the counter and stole painkillers, Officer Harn said.
At 5:41 p.m., Garland police were called to the intersection of Jupiter Road and Marquis Drive. Mr. Lopez was stopped at a red light when someone pulled alongside his car and fired several shots, killing him, police said.
The next three shootings were reported in quick succession along westbound LBJ between Jupiter Road and Forest Lane. Kenneth Black Jr., 62, was not injured when shots were fired at him, police said.
Miller was shot and killed minutes later, his United Van Lines 18-wheeler coming to rest in a middle lane of westbound LBJ, just west of Miller Road.
Next, Gary Roberts, 46, suffered minor injuries when shots were fired into the cab of his 18-wheeler along westbound LBJ, near Forest Lane.
One witness to the Garland shooting reported seeing a tan extended-cab Ford F-150 pickup at the time. However, one of the surviving Dallas victims said he saw a black sport utility vehicle following closely behind him before shots were fired at him.
Several hours later, about 9:15 p.m., Garland police spotted Mr. Smith stopped at State Highway 66, near Commerce Street, in a black Honda sport utility vehicle. Police knew that he was wanted in Southlake and that he was reportedly suicidal and armed.
SWAT officers called to the scene surrounded him and tried to contact him for nearly three hours, to no avail. Shortly after midnight, Mr. Smith drove the vehicle forward, a SWAT truck blocked him in and he struck it with his car.
As officers rushed toward him, he fired a single shot.
At the scene early Tuesday, Garland police said there was no indication that Mr. Smith was connected to the motorist shootings. But over the next several hours, the investigation began to point in his direction.
A $20,000 reward was posted for information in the case, and hundreds of tips poured in from across the country. Many tipsters referred to a recent episode of the TV series Criminal Minds, in which a man kills blond women driving luxury cars on Southern California freeways, according to the show's Web site.
The families of the victims, meanwhile, grappled with the senseless killings.
When Mr. Miller was shot, he was on his way to park his rig before flying home to Frankfort, Ky., to be with his wife and children.
"He was a good man – honest and hardworking," said Dennis Tolson, president of Vincent Fister Inc., an agent of United Van Lines. "Customers loved him. He had great personal skills."
Mr. Miller, who was in the National Guard and served in Desert Storm, worked in a tool-and-die shop and was a cabinet maker before becoming a trucker.
"He always had a smile on his face and was the first to lend a hand to family and friends in need," said Donna Hammons, Mr. Miller's sister.
Mr. Lopez's friends and family mourned a young man who had planned to propose to his girlfriend of three years on Christmas Day.
"The whole family is just in shock. ... We just can't believe it," said his brother Luis Lopez. "You know, he was so innocent, he never would try to do anything to nobody."
Mr. Lopez, 20, enjoyed fishtailing in his small Nissan. The car he died in was an ongoing project of his. For those who narrowly escaped serious injury or death, the shootings remained a frightening ordeal. Mr. Black was driving west on LBJ Freeway when he heard a "pop" that shattered the window on the passenger side of his truck.
The Euless man ducked to avoid any more bullets, raising his head only long enough to steer his vehicle.
"I was trying to keep my rig on the road," said Mr. Black. "I tried to outrun him but couldn't, so I slammed on the brakes."
"It was scary," said Mr. Black. "I was just trying to get away from him."

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