Couples had front-row seat to shootout

MIDDLEFIELD – Raymond and Alma Bontrager were sitting in their living room Sunday when they noticed the flashing lights of a police car in their window.

“I always watch when police make a traffic stop in front of our house,” Alma Bontrager said.

What began as a traffic stop at State Avenue and Tare Creek, however, turned into a shootout that left two police officers wounded and one man dead, according to reports.

“It happened quickly,” Alma Bontrager said on Monday. “It was like something you would see on television, but it was real.”

The names of the officers have not been released, but the man suspected of shooting them has been identified as James L. Gilkerson, 42, of Mentor-on-the-Lake, the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office said.

According to reports, the officers pulled over Gilkerson about 6 p.m. Sunday.

Raymond Bontrager noticed the officers did not get out of their patrol car right away. It was then the man in the stopped car got out of his vehicle with a gun in hand. He immediately began firing at the police car.

“The officers had not gotten out of their vehicle,” Raymond Bontrager said.

The female officer appeared to have been hit right away; she was holding her arm in front of her, Raymond Bontrager said.

“The other cop was pretty brave,” he said. “He went directly at the shooter, firing his weapon.”

According to reports, Gilkerson shot first at the officers with a semi-automatic rifle (AK-47) as he exited the vehicle. He died from gunshot wounds at the scene after the officers returned fire.

The female officer sustained serious gunshot injuries to fingers on her left. Shrapnel was embedded in her right wrist, and she received a gunshot wound to her left thigh. She was taken by helicopter to Metro Hospital in Cleveland, where she underwent surgery to repair her injuries and remained hospitalized overnight for observation, the report states.

The male officer sustained minor injuries to his left knee from flying fragments. He was treated and released from University Hospital in Geauga and is at home recovering.

When the shooting stopped, the police cruiser had a flat tire and its front windshield appeared to be damaged. The Bontragers said Gilkerson’s body was on the street until about 10 p.m. Officers were still on the scene collecting evidence well after 2:30 a.m. Monday.

Two doors down, at the corner of State Avenue and Tare Creek Parkway, Patrick and Teckla Holmes described hearing a series of sounds.

“At first, it seemed like a cold tractor backfiring,” Patrick Holmes said. “There was a pause, then we heard them again.”

The couple ran to their front porch.

“I saw the last five shots before the suspect went down,” Patrick Holmes said.

In all, Patrick and Teckla Holmes estimate hearing between 15 and 20 shots.

The Geauga County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation are handling the investigation.

Tribune Chronicle reporter Margaret Thompson contributed to this report.