I-80 sniper victims include Squaw resident | SierraSun.com
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I-80 sniper victims include Squaw resident

JOHN BAYLESS, Sierra Sun

Police arrested a 20-year-old Minnesota resident Monday for allegedly sniping at vehicles on Interstate 80 west of Reno in a shooting spree which injured an Olympic Valley man.

The victim is John Morrison, who last year won the North Tahoe Lord of the Boards competition, according to his friend, Lance Cyr. The annual event involves skiing, snowboarding and telemarking.

Morrison was taken to Washoe County Medical Center where he is listed in stable condition.

According to John Wheeler with Washoe County Medical Center, as of yesterday afternoon, there were no immediate plans to release the patient.

The suspect, Christopher Lee Merritt of Mankato, Minn., was arrested following a routine traffic stop north of Las Vegas Monday night, 12 hours after the shootings which wounded three people near Mogul, Nev.

Sgt. Bob Towery of Washoe County Sheriff’s Department said the suspect admitted to the crimes.

“He was shooting at vehicles in an attempt to create an accident,” Towery said. “Then he was going to go out on Interstate 80 to try to rob the victims.”

At 9:30 p.m., a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper and a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officer observed Merritt driving a white pickup southbound on Interstate 15 north of Las Vegas, and saw that he did not have proper lighting on the rear of the vehicle, according to police reports.

The officers stopped Merritt to inform him of the problem and during the stop discovered that the truck had been stolen from Missouri. He was arrested for possession of a stolen motor vehicle, and officers located several firearms in the truck while inventorying Merritt’s items for safekeeping.

Towery said Merritt engaged officers in casual conversation while they were transporting him to the Clark County Detention Center.

“While doing so, he [Merritt] indicated that he had been shooting the weapons,” Towery said. According to Towery, Merritt indicated that he had been involved in the shooting incident on Interstate 80.

The Las Vegas officers then contacted the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and detectives immediately flew to Las Vegas to interview the suspect.

“During the interview, Merritt confessed to the shooting,” Towery said. He said that deputies are confident a firearm recovered from the vehicle is the one used in the shooting.

Clark County did not charge Merritt for possession of a stolen vehicle, because the truck belonged to his uncle. He was transferred to the custody of Washoe County Sheriff’s Office detectives and transported to Reno Tuesday where he was booked on numerous charges.

Towery said Merritt was booked on eight counts of attempted murder, three counts of battery with a deadly weapon, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and six counts of discharging a firearm at an occupied vehicle.

“All are felonies and he is being held without bail,” Towery said. He said Merritt was not in the Reno area for long, and was not a suspect in the recent shootings of 34 wild horses outside of Reno.

Merritt’s arrest ended a day-long search which began Monday at 9:05 a.m., after the sheriff’s office received a report of a motorist wounded by gunfire while driving on Interstate 80 near Mogul.

Towery said the injured motorist was westbound on Interstate 80 when he noticed a pickup parked on the north side of the freeway. He began to slow down to see if the driver needed assistance, when a bullet shattered the windshield of his vehicle, struck him in the chin and lodged in his chest. He drove to the fire station in Verdi, where he requested assistance and reported the incident. He was transported to Washoe Medical Center, and released from the hospital Tuesday morning.

At the same time that report arrived, Nevada Highway Patrol was responding to other reports of vehicles damaged by road debris, Towery said. He said the vehicle the injured motorist observed parked along I-80 was also hit by gunfire, causing glass fragments to strike the driver’s face.

“In the interim, we learned that those vehicles were being struck by gunfire,” Towery said. “Part of the problem with this investigation is that the vehicles were being hit by gunfire, but the occupants did not realize it.” He said Tuesday that authorities have confirmed at least six vehicles were damaged by gunfire.

He said the drivers thought their cars had been struck by road debris, and continued down Interstate 80 until it was convenient to pull over. They discovered the gunfire damage and called the police.

The Nevada Department of Transportation closed I-80 between Robb Drive and Boomtown in both directions from about 9:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., as officers searched for the sniper. Traffic was diverted to Old Highway 40.

More than 100 officers were involved in the search Monday, including 14 officers from Sparks Police Department, 34 from Reno Police Department, 51 from Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, 10 from Nevada Highway Patrol, three from the Nevada Department of Investigations, six from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one from the Nevada Department of Wildlife and five from the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office.

“In addition to that, we brought 16 to 18 search-and-rescue people to conduct the evidence search,” Towery said.

RAVEN-1, the Washoe County Sheriff’s helicopter, was deployed to assist in the search, and was joined a short while later by its sister craft, RAVEN-2.

Towery said that once the officers ensured the public was safe and the area contained, SWAT members from the Reno Police Department were deployed into the hill area east of Mogul, and the search was then expanded further into the hills above the freeway.

During the first hours after the freeway reopened at 2:45 p.m., 20 patrol vehicles from The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, the Reno Police Department and the Nevada Highway Patrol patrolled that section of Interstate 80.

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