With his life on the line this afternoon, Deputy Andrew Hale had to hope for the best after a single gunshot rang out in Byron and shattered two windows in his patrol vehicle.
He needed to assess the situation, and to do that, he had to get out of his car. He had to get out without knowing where the shot came from, and no immediate idea of where or how he should take cover.
It was a perilous moment.
"Where do I hide?" Hale said during a press conference at the Sheriff's Office less than four hours after the incident at the Arrow Mart in Byron. "Where do I go? That's not stuff they can teach you at the academy. That's something you've just got to roll the dice and hopefully, you get lucky."
Fortunately, Hale said, he had immediate backup.
Deputy Joseph Corona was at the side of his patrol vehicle just a few hundred feet away when he saw Hale exit his SUV.
"I did observe Deputy Hale exit his vehicle with kind of a stunned look on his face on what possibly may have happened," Corona said. "I saw him look around to the side of his vehicle at which time when he looked at the side of his vehicle, I watched the exterior glass fall out of his vehicle onto the parking lot of the Arrow Mart, at which point I saw him going to radio for assistance. At that point, I'd already placed my vehicle in drive. I went to go offer support and offer a cover for Deputy Hale, so I put my patrol vehicle in front of him and his vehicle. I didn't know what situation was going on but he said 'possible gunshot'; so in my mind, I utilized our vehicles, I utilized our training, I made sure Deputy Hale was OK."
Hale said, "It was good when somebody showed up at the scene and you know you've got a friend."
Corona noticed an open window on the second floor of the Byron Hotel and a man moving in and out of the window. Corona thought it was likely that's where the shot came from and tried to yell commands to the man by the window.
"He did not obey my instructions," Corona said. "Whether he didn't hear me or wasn't paying attention to me, I didn't know at that point. "`
The Arrow Mart was busy and there were civilians all around the intersection of Route 262 and Route 237. Corona and Hale shouted instructions for people to take cover and leave the area.
Backup arrived from the Sheriff's Office and State Police.
Hale, Corona, Chief Deputy Gordon Dibble and Undersheriff William Sheron entered the hotel and went to the second floor.
David Michael O'Connor, 55, of Room 3, Byron Hotel, Byron, was taken into custody and charged with first-degree reckless endangerment, a Class D felony, and third-degree criminal mischief, a Class E felony. Additional charges may be filed. He was jailed on $25,000 bail.
Hale and Corona were at the intersection running a traffic detail, watching for drivers without seatbelts. Corona would mark the spot and Hale would initiate the traffic stop.
At noon today, Hale stopped a vehicle in the parking lot of the Arrow Mart and wound through the routine -- speaking with the driver, who admitted to driving without a seatbelt, gathering his license, registration and insurance information and then returning to his patrol vehicle to check the data on his computer.
Once in the SUV, Hale heard "a pop" and the glass of his patrol vehicle's rear, passenger seat, windows shattered.
"At that point, you really don't know what's going on and you're trying to figure out, first, 'Was that a shot?' and second, 'Where did it come from?' " Hale said. "We were both sitting out in the open. It's a residential neighborhood and there are people 360 degrees around you and you don't know what window or what person. You don't know anything except that you potentially had gunfire."
The no-seatbelt driver got out his car.
Hale admitted, yeah, of course, it crossed his mind that the driver was the attacker. A person getting out of a vehicle is a big red flag for a cop, Hale said, but the driver immediately put his hands up and asked Hale if he was OK.
"Somebody who just shot at you doesn't throw up his hands in the air and ask if you're OK," Hale said. "Once I was kind of assured he wasn't a threat, my eyes went elsewhere."
The driver did not receive a citation.
District Attorney Lawrence Friedman wouldn't speculate on what additional charges O'Connor might face, but yes, there is an attempted murder of a police officer to consider.
O'Connor was allegedly found in possession of a .22 bolt-action, single-shot rifle. Maha said that when he entered Room #3, after the scene had been secured, he observed a box of shells on the bed. A casing was still in the rifle, but the slug has not yet been recovered.
Maha said only a single shot was fired.
Nobody was hurt.
There is no known motive at this time. O'Connor does have a local DWI arrest on his record from 2003 but had never had prior contact with Hale.
O'Connor "made certain admissions," Maha said, but wouldn't say what O'Connor said or characterize their nature.
Maha said there were indications O'Connor was under some recent stress and that he may have been a little intoxicated, though not noticeably intoxicated.
The job of law enforcement seems to have gotten more dangerous in recent years, Maha said.
"People seem to be more aggressive," Maha said. "I think it's a sign of the times, whether drug abuse, or alcohol abuse or stress, a lot of people out there with mental health issues."
Hale noted that so much of the work of law enforcement can be routine and it's easy to get complacent, but that's the last thing you want to do these days. So much has changed.
"You try and remind yourself, and incidents like this do remind us that we do have to be vigilant out there," Hale said. "We have to pay attention. A simple stop for a seatbelt and look what it turned into. It's not that easy sometimes. You've got to see and keep yourself sharp and do your job.
"As the Sheriff stated," Hale added, "policing has changed now and the traffic stop has become, as a stated earlier, a 360. It's no longer just in front of you. You have to be more aware of the hostility toward police officers. You know, people walking down the street, you never know. I guess that's just part of the job now."