Shooting ‘justified’

BELLAIRE Law enforcement officers are trained to prepare for any eventuality and Thursday morning in Eastern Division Court, three Belmont County sheriff’s deputies put that training to the test.

Sylvester E. Walker Jr., 20, from Bellaire, appeared in Eastern Court on charges relating to a raid conducted by the Belmont County Drug Task Force in April.

During his arraignment, Judge John Vavra informed Walker about some outstanding warrants out on him and, because of that, Walker was to be detained and taken to jail.

Walker became irate, then in an unlikely move, got up from his seat and sprinted toward the back of the courtroom, into the lobby and out the door, nearly knocking over two younger girls in the waiting room in the process.

Once outside, Walker quickly slid into the passenger seat of a 2013 Fiat 500 rented from Enterprise Rent-a-Car. His girlfriend, Nicole Gust, 19, also of Bellaire, was waiting behind the wheel.

Three sheriff’s deputies attempted to subdue Walker and stop the vehicle, but to no avail.

With one deputy still inside the vehicle, Gust turned the car toward the exit and gunned the gas in attempt to escape.

It was then one of the two sheriff’s deputies standing between the exit and the Fiat took two calculated shots, both at the front passenger-side tire of the Fiat, disabling the vehicle.

Once stopped, Walker manager to slip loose and took off south toward Nelson Field. He was later apprehended near the creek bank behind the field and taken to the Belmont County Jail.

“One of the deputies dove inside the car to try to get (Walker),” Bellaire Police Chief Mike Kovalyk said. “That’s when she gunned the motor.

“Luckily, one of the deputies was there for the case; another is the court officer and a third was there as a transport officer, bringing prisoners down to the court.

“Other officers responded after they heard shots were fired and after the subject ran from the scene, he was captured down near the creek.”

Kovalyk said luckily no one was seriously injured. One of the deputies had to be examined because of a sprained knee, but that seemed to be the extent of the damage.

The chief wasn’t sure what all charges the two will be facing, although Walker is likely looking at attempted escape and Gust likely complicity to escape. She will likely also face assault on a officer charges for aiming her speeding vehicle at officers.

A search warrant of the Fiat was requested and signed off on by Judge Frank Fregiato. Upon the search, officers discovered a substantial amount of money and drugs that were confiscated from the vehicle.

Two shell casings from the rounds fired into the tire were also recovered.

“There were additional drugs and a large amount of cash in the car and we’ll present that to the prosecutor,” Kovalyk said.

Kovalyk noted the investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Investigations were called in because the ordeal involved an officer discharging his weapon.

Belmont County Sheriff Dave Lucas told media members he is confident the officer was justified the use of his weapon.

Luckily, one officer is always on duty whenever Eastern or Northern Division Court is in session.

This stemmed from an August 2012 incident when then 68-year-old Ron Asher, also known as Rahaan Obatiaye, attempted to bring into court a walking stick that had a filet knife and a pair of brass knuckles attached to it.

That day, there was no security present inside the court and, luckily, nothing happened. Even during construction of the court, Kovalyk and others explained to county officials that security was needed at the building.

“We’ve had disorderly people in the court before but never anyone who just up and bolted out like that,” Kovalyk said. “But that was captured on video and we should have that video tomorrow.

“Before the court was built, we went to the commissioners’ meeting and explained, wherever it was built, they needed to address court security and after that incident with Ronnie Asher, that’s when they started having an officer present for all court proceedings.”

Kovalyk was complimentary about the cooperation between all police departments that showed up to assist with the case, including: sheriff’s deputies and Sheriff Lucas along with the Bellaire, Shadyside, Bridgeport and Martins Ferry police departments.

“They all responded quickly,” Kovalyk noted. “When someone yells for help, everyone comes running.”

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