By Adam Wright, Melissa Hebert, Brad Dicken and Alicia Castelli, The Chronicle-Telegram
ELYRIA — Elyria police officer James Kerstetter was shot and killed Monday night, and the man accused of gunning him down also is dead after a confrontation on the city’s south side.
Police were called to a home in the 300 block of 18th Street just before 10 p.m. when a woman said a neighbor was naked, exposed himself to her child and kicked in a window of her home.
Elyria police Chief Duane Whitely said Kerstetter was responding to the call when he was shot. He’s the first Elyria officer killed in the line of duty in 67 years.
“The officer was in a house. There were shots. The officer went down,” Whitely said.
Listen to an audio interview with Art Weber, president of the Elyria Fraternal Police Association:
Listen to an audio interview with Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely:
Other officers who also responded found Kerstetter and immediately began efforts to save the wounded officer’s life, Whitely said.
The alleged shooter, identified by one of his family members as Ronnie Palmer, 58, was standing outside the home when additional officers approached, according to a neighbor.
“I looked out my window because I heard police running by and shouting ‘Stop!’ ” said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “I saw the guy lunge at the police and they shot him. I can’t believe it. You see that kind of thing on TV but to actually see it in person …”
Kerstetter was rushed to EMH Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, Whitely said.
Whitely said he didn’t know the full details of what happened and the investigation has been turned over to Lorain County Sheriff’s deputies.
Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh said detectives were still piecing together what happened.
“Details are still sketchy right now,” he said early today.
Melissa Dovet, whose sister first called 911, said Palmer and a neighbor had been arguing all day about the neighbor’s children coming into his backyard and playing with his fish pond.
At the crime scene Monday night, officers were visibly shaken, with several of them weeping and embracing one another.
That scene was repeated outside the hospital where officers from Elyria, Avon, Vermilion, Highway Patrol, Cleveland and other departments gathered.
Art Weber, president of the Elyria Fraternal Police Association, said he had known Kerstetter since he was born.
“I lost a good friend,” he said, pausing to cry. “He’s probably the best that can come down the line. He was dedicated to the city.”
Whitely, too, said Kerstetter’s fellow officers were hard hit by the loss of one of their own. Kerstetter had been with the department for roughly 15 years, he said. Before that, he was a deputy sheriff.
“He’s an outstanding officer,” Whitely said. “One of the best.”
Kerstetter was the son of James Kerstetter, the longtime Elyria Township fire chief and his wife, Carol. A friend said Monday night that the younger Kerstetter met his wife at his first job at Wendy’s when he was 16.
Just last week, Kerstetter was one of the officers credited with helping to evacuate homes in the area around Highland Court after a house fire started spreading to nearby homes.
Elyria Mayor Bill Grace said Kerstetter’s death was a blow to the city.
“It’s a difficult night for Elyria as a whole,” he said.
More photos below.
Family and friends of Palmer’s had also gathered near a garage a few houses down from where Palmer’s body lay under a sheet. A woman who neighbors identified as Palmer’s wife was crying most of the night and eventually had to be taken away in an ambulance.
“He ain’t have nobody but me,” she shouted.
Palmer was arrested March 26, 2009, on charges of domestic violence, aggravated menacing and unlawful restraint involving his wife, Garnetta Palmer.
According to court records, a condition of his bond on those charges was to stay 500 feet from the victim, Garnetta Palmer, and “defendant may not possess a firearm; also obtain a psychological evaluation.”
He changed his plea Sept. 24 to no contest on all three charges and the domestic violence charge was changed to a disorderly conduct persisting charge. Palmer was found guilty of the disorderly conduct charge and the aggravated menacing and unlawful restraint charges were dismissed.
Palmer received a suspended sentence of 30 days in jail and had to pay $305 in fines and court costs.
Late Monday, neighbors were still lingering near the cordoned off street, saying they were still shaken.
“All this over basically what was a misdemeanor. Two people lost their lives over nothing. I can’t wait to move. I don’t want my son around this,” neighbor Mesha Montgomery said.
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The last Elyria officer killed was Howard B. Taft, 29, on Aug. 18, 1942. According to a Web site created to honor fallen officers in Lorain County, Taft was shot and killed by a suspected drunken driver who later was found to be a murderer.
Cop historian Al Leiby, who retired from the Elyria police force, wrote on the Web site that Taft was killed by Nathaniel Spuriel of Cleveland after Taft was sent with his partner to investigate an accident.
After a struggle at the scene, Taft was shot in his abdomen and hip, but he managed to return fire and shot and killed Spuriel.