Reason for fatal shooting outside Hellam Twp. bar still not known
What led to the fatal shooting of a Windsor man last month outside a Hellam Township bar last month is still unknown.
During a Thursday, Aug. 30, preliminary hearing, witnesses and law enforcement personnel testified about the events that led up to the death of 25-year-old Chad Merrill, but none detailed why he was fatally shot on July 21.
Last month, Hellam Township Police charged James Michael Saylor, 24, of Lower Windsor Township, in the fatal shooting of Merrill outside the Red Rose Inn.
Police have said that Saylor was using racial slurs against Merrill's friend Jerrell Grandison-Douglas and that Saylor, who had been kicked out of the bar, killed Merrill after Merrill stepped out of the bar on July 21.
"What happened between Mr. Douglas and Mr. Saylor inside the bar has absolutely nothing to do with what happened outside," George Margetas, Saylor's attorney, told reporters after the hearing.
At bar: During Thursday's hearing, chief deputy prosecutor Seth Bortner called Grandison-Douglas to the stand.
Grandison-Douglas was asked to recount what had happened that night. He said he arrived at the bar between 12:40 a.m. and 12:50 a.m., ordered a beer and a shot and sat down at the bar.
When he sat down, he heard someone ask "Who let these n—s in the bar?" he testified. Grandison-Douglas, a black man, said he turned around and saw Saylor, who reiterated the question.
"He says who let these n—s in the bar?" Grandison-Douglas said. He testified that he had come to the bar from another bar with another black man, who needed a ride.
Grandison-Douglas said he tried to defuse the situation and find common ground by asking Saylor if he had any family members who served in the military. That didn't work, he said, and he offered to buy Saylor a beer and a shot, and that didn't work either.
Grandison-Douglas said that in a last attempt to defuse the situation, he reached out his hand to shake Saylor's. But he didn't want that either, Grandison-Douglas said.
The encounter lasted a few minutes, and Grandison-Douglas said Saylor called him the n-word four to five times. He said he felt threatened by Saylor because of the words he chose to use.
"Any moment, I felt he could've lashed out," Grandison-Douglas said. He told Margetas during cross-examination that Saylor never threatened anyone verbally or physically.
After that, Grandison-Douglas testified that Saylor was removed from the bar by management. Merrill, Grandison-Douglas' friend of six years, came over and told him not to worry about what Saylor had said, Grandison-Douglas testified.
Merrill then told Grandison-Douglas he had to go outside to his car, according to testimony.
Hellam Township Sgt. Justin Golder testified that video surveillance from the bar showed that a man sitting between Grandison-Douglas and Saylor had tried to defuse the situation.
Merrill, Golder said, was "remote from it."
At one point Merrill, who was sitting behind Grandison-Douglas, looked to reach over and address Saylor, and Golder said it looked as though Merrill was telling him to stop.
Shot: Golder testified that video surveillance from the bar showed Saylor trying to get into the wrong truck when he was kicked out.
He then found his truck and walked to it, and as he was walking to it, he pulled a gun from his waistband and fired toward the building, striking it, according to testimony.
Merrill, Golder said, left the building after the first shot was fired. Golder said Merrill was walking toward his own car, and it looked like he was waiting for Saylor to back up.
According to Golder, footage showed Saylor backing his truck up and pulling alongside the truck he had previously tried to get into, where Merrill was standing.
"Within three seconds, four seconds, a shot's fired," Golder said.
Golder said Merrill then backed up, struck an Uber driver and fled toward Wrightsville.
That Uber driver, Paul Sowers Jr., testified that he saw someone shoot another person from inside the truck before it backed up and struck his car. Sowers said he didn't see who was driving the truck.
The sergeant testified that tests were done on Saylor's truck that revealed a gun had been fired inside the truck, and that blood was on the outside of the truck toward the back of the driver's side. The gun, he said, was found in the center console.
An autopsy conducted July 23 confirmed that Merrill's cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest, with the manner homicide, according to the York County Coroner's Office.
York Area Regional Police took Saylor into custody at his home the day of the shooting, according to authorities.
Charges bound over: During the hearing, the prosecution added charges of ethnic intimidation, recklessly endangering another person, harassment and accidents involving death or personal injury.
All the new charges, as well as the previous charge of homicide, were bound over for court.
However, Margetas took exception to the charges of harassment and ethnic intimidation. He said what happened at the bar had nothing to do with what happened outside.
Margetas also said he doesn't believe what his client said rises to the level of ethnic intimidation, nor did it rise to the level of harassment.
"He said it maybe four or five times — that's not excusing what James said — it's just, in my opinion this is a red herring in this whole entire case," Margetas said. "To say that that's what caused everything is not true."
Still, District Judge Robert Eckenrode found there was enough evidence for the case to proceed.
Margetas also emphasized that Saylor was "intoxicated beyond all belief." Golder testified that Saylor had been kicked out of a bar prior to getting to the Red Roof Inn, and Saylor ordered two drinks and four shots while at the Red Roof Inn.
"He was definitely drunk, and that's going to play a major role in this case — his intoxication," Margetas said.
Margetas said that to his knowledge, Merrill and Saylor had no prior disagreements. He said the two were friendly and had mutual friends. The two had gone to school together, he said.
Fundraising: A GoFundMe page was set up for Merrill's family after Merrill's death. The page states that he was a new father to his son Layton and that he "knew how to make anyone smile on a moment's notice."
The money was raised to cover funeral expenses, and any left over was to be given to his son. The page has raised more than $67,000.
Richard Merrill, Chad Merrill's brother, posted on the page two days after his brother's death.
"My brother was a hero and an amazing father. I wish so bad he were still with us so he could continue being the amazing man he was. We were and still are so proud of him," the message reads in part.
The page may be found at www.gofundme.com/chad-merrill-funeral-fund-etc.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.