Thursday, April 8, 2010
VERONA — Authorities have arrested a mechanic from Augusta County in connection with Monday’s double shooting of a Charlottesville disc jockey and a Fluvanna County High School senior who were watching the sunset from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Ralph Leon Jackson, 56, of the 1800 block of Howardsville Turnpike near Sherando, is facing charges of attempted capital murder, use of a firearm in commission of a felony and potentially other federal and state charges.
“The public can breathe somewhat easier that there’s not a mad gunman out there,” Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The victims, 18-year-old Christina Floyd of Palmyra and 27-year-old Tim Davis of Charlottesville, remain at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Floyd’s condition was listed as stable and improving. Davis’ condition remains critical.
Authorities said they do not believe that Floyd or Davis knew their attacker, and their assailant did not know them.
Investigators remain uncertain what prompted the shooting.
“There’s no rhyme nor reason,” Fisher said. “We don’t know why. We don’t know what the motive was.”
Jeff Hegewald, a cousin of Davis who lives in Miami, said he was glad to hear an arrest had been made.
“We hope justice is served,” he said. “I hope he gets what he deserves, whatever the jury decides when he’s prosecuted.”
Investigators on Wednesday also released additional details about what happened Monday evening.
Floyd and Davis were at the Rock Point Overlook, a scenic 3,115-foot elevation along the Blue Ridge Parkway at around 7:30 p.m. watching the sun sink behind the mountains. The two, police said, have been good friends for around three years.
A gunman then drove up in a red car and fired a shotgun at Floyd and Davis from inside his vehicle around 20 to 25 feet away. Floyd and Davis were struck from behind by multiple shot in the upper parts of their bodies.
The gunman then exited his car and apparently pushed Davis off the ledge, causing him to tumble down the steep mountainside an estimated 150 feet.
Floyd fought her assailant, tearing at his shirt and possibly knocking the shotgun out of his hands.
At one point during the struggle, Floyd told police, she yelled, “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I’m crazy,” the gunman replied.
As the gunman and Floyd fought, she was either pushed or she fell off the embankment and down the slope. The gunman then began hurling rocks at her down below.
Eventually Floyd managed to climb back up and flagged down a passing car. The as-yet-unidentified man and woman picked up Floyd and sped off.
Floyd’s uncle, Tom Haley of California, said the gunman apparently took at least one more shot at the fleeing car.
The couple got Floyd to nearby police and rescue personnel, who rushed her to UVa’s hospital. It took rescuers nearly an hour to reach Davis, who was far down the mountain. A law enforcement officer suffered minor injuries in the rescue effort.
The gunman escaped, but Floyd gave investigators a description of his red car and described her assailant as a white man in his 50s with a medium build and gray hair.
A massive manhunt ensued, conducted by agencies including the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, the National Park Service, the Virginia State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
At around 2 a.m. Wednesday, a tipster called the Crimestoppers hotline and gave investigators information that led them to Jackson.
By 4 a.m., a surveillance van was parked outside Jackson’s home on Howardsville Turnpike, a two-lane country road lined with houses.
At 3:15 p.m., roughly two dozen tactical team members from the FBI, Augusta County Sheriff’s Office, ATF and more raided Jackson’s single-story house and took him into custody without incident.
While details of the raid were not immediately available Wednesday, a neighbor described how numerous law enforcement officers ran through her yard to get to Jackson’s house.
“I saw the police officers running with rifles, ready to shoot,” said Donna Meadows, a neighbor who said she is not acquainted with Jackson. Once the tactical team arrived at Jackson’s house, she said, there were several loud bangs.
Investigators searching Jackson’s residence found a shotgun and ammunition matching the type used in Monday’s incident, Fisher said. They also found a red Kia Sephia car.
A few hours later, Jackson’s house was empty. His wife did not answer the door. A sign hanging on it said “Welcome” and “Grandma and Grandpa’s Place.”
Authorities say Jackson is employed as a mechanic and is a lifelong resident of Augusta County. They declined to comment on whether Jackson has a criminal or mental health history.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Fisher praised Floyd for fighting back against her assailant. He praised the unnamed couple who picked her up and possibly saved her life. And he praised the tipster who gave “crucial” information leading to Jackson’s arrest.
“Three sets of people did the right thing,” Fisher said. “It renews faith in human kind, so to speak.”
Authorities said Jackson is being cooperative and is speaking with investigators.
“He is being interviewed as we speak,” Fisher said during the news conference.
Davis, meanwhile, has not been able to speak with investigators, authorities said. “He’s unable to give a statement,” Fisher said. “We’ve tried.”
Davis moved to Charlottesville in fall 2006 to take a job with WNRN, a noncommercial radio station that broadcasts in Charlottesville, Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley.
Davis is employed as the station’s operations director, a position that handles some of the station’s production and engineering needs. He is also well known in Charlottesville as a regular on-air announcer,
hosting modern rock programming weekday evenings along with “The Boombox” rap show twice a week as “DJ Prolapse.”
“Tim Davis is a compassionate coworker who cares deeply about the audience he reaches as an announcer,” Tad Abbey, WNRN’s news director, said in a statement Wednesday. “There are many listeners who call Tim each night to share their personal thoughts. Tim always makes time to be an open ear for them.”
Virginia State Police investigators are looking into the possibility that Monday’s double shooting was connected to the unsolved August 2009 double homicide of Virginia Tech students David Lee Metzler, 19, of Lynchburg, and Heidi Lynn Childs, 18, of Forest, at a campground in Jefferson National Forest in Montgomery County, Fisher said.
Law enforcement officers praised the collaboration among state, local and federal agencies in response to Monday’s shooting. Steve Stinnett, chief ranger for the parkway, said it was one of the most professional jobs he has seen.
Stinnett added that the Blue Ridge Parkway is safe once again.
"This situation is resolved,” he said. “[Visitors] can return to enjoy the parkway as they normally would.”