Elk shooting may be linked to crime spree

By Carol Mulvihill Contributing Writer

Benezette, Pa. — The illegal shooting of an elk along Gray Hill
Road in Jay Township, Elk County, last month may be linked to a
bizarre 32-hour spree of shootings, burglaries and eight suspected
camp arsons, according to state police.

Suspects have been taken into custody for the crimes, according
to Trooper Bruce Morris, but none have confessed to the downing of
the big bull with six-by-six antlers.

“Three men were arrested and taken into custody early in the
investigations,” Morris said. “The Pennsylvania Game Commission is
in charge of the investigation of the elk-shooting incident.”

The investigation of the elk shooting is still in progress,
reported wildlife conservation officer Doty McDowell with the Game
Commission.

Authorizes say camp owners found the bull elk lying lifeless in
a shallow ditch on their property on Gray Hill Road near Benezette
between 7:30 and 8 a.m. on Aug. 19. The citizens told police that
they had heard three or four shots fired around 4:30 a.m.

Josh McBride and Josh Tkacik, elk biologist aides for the Game
Commission, were the first officials at the scene. As they walked
20 yards down a slope to the ditch where the 700-pound elk was
lying motionless, Tkacik commented, “It’s going to be a heck of a
job dragging him out of here.”

Before removing the dead animal, Tkacik and McBride removed the
identifying collar and completed necessary paper work. Ironically,
Tkacik had helped to collar this elk with collar #39 little more
than a year before.

The bull’s torso appeared to be peppered with buckshot. After
Tkacik listened with a stethoscope for heartbeat and lung sounds,
he confirmed the death of the elk.

Tkacik’s job with the Game Commission includes collaring,
tagging and monitoring elk with telemetry equipment to study their
mobility, reproduction and mortality. He estimated that the dead
bull was between three and four years old.

Before long, Game Commission officers Dave Stubber, David
Carlini and Terry Sheetz arrived. A local camp owner lent the use
of his four-wheeler to drag the dead elk up the slope to the road
where a flatbed trailer hitched to a Game Commission truck was
waiting to transport the carcass.

“Why would anybody ever think of doing such a stupid thing?”
individuals watching the removal of the dead animal asked each
other. “What a waste! If somebody would do that, it makes you
wonder what other terrible things that person would be capable of
doing.”

Residents of Benezette might have learned the answer. That same
day, the small rural village hummed with news of suspected camp
arsons and the shooting and butchering of a farm calf in a pasture
along state Route 555 in Grant. As additional cases of arson,
burglary, and shotgun shooting incidents unfolded in the Benezette
area and over the same weekend, authorities began to consider the
possibility that the string of crimes could be related.

“The time frame and the location of the incidents makes us
wonder,” said State Trooper Morris.

On Aug. 21, three men were arrested, arraigned, and committed to
Elk County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bond each. They were identified
as Jerry Eugene Shrubb, 33, of St. Marys; James Nelson Deutsch, 27,
of Freedom; and Michael Paul Deutsch, 20, of Rochester, Pa.
According to Morris, charges included multiple counts of arson,
burglary, criminal mischief, complicity and other charges.

The arrests were somewhat reassuring to the residents and camp
owners of Elk County, since no new arsons have been reported since
the time the arrests were made. Even so, landowners say they remain
watchful in the aftermath as the investigations continue.

“People should be observant, if they can do so without putting
themselves in harm’s way,” said Game Commission officer Stubber
about what residents could do to keep Elk County safe and
crime-free. “Extreme caution is advised in every situation,
obviously, especially those involving firearms. Personal safety
comes first.”

Commission officer Carlini noted that the incidence of illegal
game shootings or poachings seems to increase during August and
September most years, for reasons he could not explain. “Recently
there were two separate cases of deer poachings and a total of
three deer were killed,” he said. “Arrests were made in both of
those cases. “

Carlini asked that anyone with information related to the
elk-shooting incident call the Game Commission’s Northcentral
Regional Office at either (570) 398-4744 or (570) 398-3423. Any
suspicious activity or behavior should be reported. Information
sources are kept confidential.

Anyone with information related to the arsons, burglaries, or
other crimes is asked to contact the Ridgway barracks of the
Pennsylvania State Police at (814) 776-6136 or the Elk County Crime
Stoppers at 1-800-775-2030. Cpl. Robert Cogley of the State Police
is in charge of coordinating the continuing investigations.

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