Call it a win for the good guys. And the older guys.
Two Ross Twp. police officers were recently honored for their efforts apprehending three murder suspects, two of them half their ages.
Ross Twp. police Capt. Jack Tremain and officer Larry Johns were both on duty Aug. 3 when Melinda Gibby, Zachary Harris and Tony Patete attempted to escape through the small township after allegedly gunning down two men in a drive-by shooting in Hamilton.
“I’ve been a policeman 34 years and this tops the list right here,” Tremain, 57, said. “And I’ve had some doozies too.”
The two officers placed their vehicles at Old Ross Millville and Ohio 128 in an attempt to block a maroon Chevy truck with the suspects inside.
One of the suspects — 24-year-old Harris — bailed out of the pickup truck and began running up a hill.
“Unfortunately for me it was the steepest hill in Ross,” Tremain said. “So here I am, he turned out to be a 24-year-old man and I’m 57 and here I am in pursuit of this guy…”
He lost his visual of Harris about halfway up the hill but then saw a white T-shirt Harris had discarded, likely so he wouldn’t be easily spotted. When Tremain saw the shirt, he started scanning his surroundings and located Harris lying face down next to a large log nearby.
“Knowing I probably wasn’t going to win the foot race with this individual I acted as if I didn’t see him, although I kept him in my peripheral vision,” Tremain said. “He’s laying face down I walked straight, not towards him, I kind of angled around acting as if I’d never seen him at all and acting as if I was going to walk off the hill, when I got to about 10 yards from him I turned and pulled my service weapon and yelled for him to comply.”
Tremain said Harris did.
Concerned no one would be able to find them in the hill’s underbrush, Tremain handcuffed Harris himself and brought him down the hill to Hamilton police officers — a walk that included having to haul Harris over a fence.
“I came out of the woods with blood dripping off both arms and my eye partially closed,” Tremain said.
“The only thing I was thinking was you gotta catch this guy,” he said. “It was already known that one person was deceased and all likelihood the other was going to die … Failure to apprehend these people jeopardizes our community and the citizens, because you’ve already killed two people, why would you stop there? This is what I’ve been sworn to do.”
After hearing police radio traffic that the weapon used in the drive-by shooting wasn’t with the suspects or in the truck, Tremain figured they had tossed the gun probably near where his suspect “bailed.”
Sure enough, he and a Hamilton officer found the AK-47 and some ammunition along Old Ross Millville.
Meanwhile Johns, 50, and a nine-month rookie on the force, continued pursuit of the other two suspects, who eventually crashed into another car on U.S. 27 and then ran.
Johns said he joined the foot pursuit of the other two suspects — ages 23 and 35 — with a large contingent of police and sheriffs deputies, helicopter and K-9 units. Patete walked out of the woods behind Ross Medical Center and turned himself in. A K-9 officer found Gibby in a nearby cornfield.
The rookie — who had spent the majority of his working career as a manufacturing plant manager — said although he was chasing murder suspects, he wasn’t worried for his safety.
“You really don’t have time to be fearful, your training kicks in,” he said, adding the capture “was very rewarding.”
Ross Twp. trustees recently awarded Tremain the Medal of Valor and Johns the Department Commendation Medal.
he performance of both officers was impeccable, Ross Twp. Police Chief Darryl Haussler said.
“The immediate response to this dangerous situation by Capt. Tremain and officer Johns, at the risk of their personal safety, showed exceptional courage and decisiveness and resulted in the capture of all three murder suspects within an hour or so of them committing their heinous crime,” Haussler said.
All three suspects have been charged with aggravated murder and are awaiting their death penalty trials in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said officers like Tremain and Johns deserve the praise they have received.
“We depend upon the interest and energy and ability of police officers, especially when they go the extra effort and put their lives in danger to apprehend somebody who has allegedly been involved in a very, very serious threat to society,” he said. “Those are the people that deserve our appreciation, just as they all do.”
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