Va. mountain sniper made final phone call to wife

Associated Press
Police tape blocks off the area around a small salvage yard along Deskins Road Monday, March 14, 2011 in Vansant, Va. A gunman opened fire on sheriff's deputies responding to a robbery call at a rural salvage yard on Sunday, killing two and injuring two others before being killed in a shootout, Virginia State Police said.  (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
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Police tape blocks off the area around a small salvage yard along Deskins Road Monday, March 14, 2011 in Vansant, Va. A gunman opened fire on sheriff's deputies responding to a robbery call at a rural salvage yard on Sunday, killing two and injuring two others before being killed in a shootout, Virginia State Police said.

A sniper who shot four sheriff's deputies with a high-powered rifle, killing two, was talking to his wife on a cell phone as police closed in on him, telling her he was about to die.

When he pulled out a pistol, police shot him to death.

Authorities were still trying to figure out Monday why a call about a suspected robbery at a salvage yard in rural southwest Virginia led to a shootout with deputies a day earlier. The gunman's motive wasn't clear, though Randy Newberry's car had been impounded at the yard, and authorities didn't think he had any previous run-ins with police.

Newberry, 52, hid behind a tree and shot the first deputy to respond to the robbery report, Shane Charles, 25, authorities and a witness said. A few minutes later, Eric Rasnake, 32, was wounded.

The officers were in critical condition Monday at separate hospitals. Deputies Cameron Justus, 41, and William Stiltner, 46, were later killed by Newberry, authorities said, as they helped set up a search perimeter less than two miles from the salvage yard.

Roger Daniels, owner of Roger's Service Center, called police after a neighbor doing yard work across the street from his business noticed Newberry and his vehicle on the property. Daniels told The Associated Press that he asked the man to block the vehicle so it couldn't pull away.

When Daniels arrived at the small lot between steep hillsides, Deputy Charles was going through Newberry's car.

Daniels said he looked up, saw the suspect's silhouette behind a tree and pointed him out to Charles.

"We knew his name because of the registration in the car," Daniels said. "And so I called his name, I told him to come on down. (Charles) called his name."

They started walking toward Newberry, who raised his rifle.

"We'd seen it," Daniels said. "At that time we hit the ground."

Charles took cover behind his police SUV, while Daniels dove underneath a pickup truck.

"A big man trying to get underneath that thing, you can dig a hole with your feet you think you can't dig," Daniels said.

Charles yelled to Newberry "'let me see your hands'" several times, Daniels said. Newberry didn't say a word, but fired an estimated 50 rounds.

"I've been in the military and I've never had that much fire drawn on me at one time," Daniels said.

Several bullets pierced the windshield and back window of the SUV. Behind it, Charles lay wounded. A few minutes later, the second officer was hit.

Newberry then fled. The manhunt ended a couple of hours later in James Conley's front yard about a quarter mile away, where Newberry had asked Conley if he could use a telephone.

"I asked him if he was the guy they were looking for," Conley said. "He said, 'are they looking for somebody?' And I said, 'don't you hear the helicopters?'"

Conley didn't want Newberry in his house, so he gave him a cell phone and listened to his conversation near his front door.

Conley said he later learned from police that Newberry was talking to his wife.

"When she picked up, he said, 'What did the police say I did?' Conley said. "And then he looked at me and said, 'What did they said I did?' I didn't respond."

Newberry and his wife also discussed his car being impounded at the salvage yard. As police closed in through a neighbor's yard, Newberry told his wife, "'They're going to kill me,'" according to Conley.

Officers ordered Newberry to the ground. He had his back to them and ignored their commands.

"They hollered that a bunch of times," Conley said. "They never did shoot at him — until he pulled a pistol out."

A woman who answered the telephone at Newberry's mother-in-law's house declined comment.

"We are in no condition to do that right now," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "This is a very trying time now for us."

Sheriff Ray Foster said up to 20 deputies were called in to assist during the pursuit.

"It was a devastating blow to my department," Foster said. "But we will work our office and try to take what positives we can. We will take care of the county."

A wreath and a flowered cross were placed outside the sheriff's department on Monday. A sign on a restaurant in the county seat of Grundy s asked for residents to "Pray for the families of our brave officers."

A candlelight vigil was planned Monday night at the county courthouse.

"This really set everybody back," said Tivis O'Quinn, a Vansant business owner. "Nobody expected this to happen. It's going to take some time to get over this thing. People are really depressed about something that happened in our community. But I think they'll make a comeback. They always do."