Remembering Trooper Gross

  • 1/20/2019 10:58:37 AM
  • Joe Lyons
  • Local News

ASHLAND, OH- Ashland State Highway Patrol Trooper, James Gross was shot in the line of duty 23 years ago.  This past Saturday marked the anniversary of his death.

Trooper Gross pulled over a suspected drunk driver on I-71 at approximately 3 am on January 19, 1996.  After approaching the car, Gross was shot by the driver, Maxwell White.

According to Doug Miller Former Lieutenant of Ohio State Highway Patrol, at 5:00 pm on January 18, 1996, Maxwell White advised his mother that he was not going to work. He was employed by Kroger and worked at their warehouse in Columbus, Ohio.

White left the house and did not return home until midnight. He was intoxicated which led to a loud lengthy argument. His mother was concerned neighbors would call the police on her son, knowing he had been convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and was still on probation.

His mother also knew he was angry with police because he believed that they had harassed him on prior occasions. When White learned that his mother had called his sister Dorothy to come to the house, he became so angry that he began destroying things in the house.

Due to his prior conviction, White knew, he was not permitted to have a gun, but he went to his cabinet and grabbed a handgun.

When his sister arrived, he forced both of them downstairs at gunpoint and tied them up, but in the process, White accidentally shot his mother in the right ankle/foot. As he left, he stated, that “I am not going back to jail, it would be better going to the morgue.”

When White got in his vehicle and left, his Mother and Sister were able to free themselves and call the Reynoldsburg Police Department.

Local Law Enforcement Agencies in Central Ohio were advised of the event and were given a description of the vehicle. However, it was unknown where he would go.

January 19, 1996, at approximately 3:00 am, at the Ashland Post (while giving the dispatcher a break), Trooper Gross overheard CB radio traffic of a possible drunk driver.

Truck drivers reported, the driver was heading northbound on I-71 approaching the Ashland exit. Trooper Gross immediately left the Ashland Post and located the vehicle with the assistance of commercial drivers using CB radio.

Unfortunately, Trooper Gross was not aware of the events, that transpired at White’s mother's house hours earlier in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Trooper Gross, believing he was just stopping a possible drunk driver, made the stop in the Northbound lane of I-71, at milepost 190.

Trooper Gross approached the driver’s side of the vehicle to make contact with the driver. It is unclear whether the driver’s window would not roll down, the driver decided to open his door, or Trooper Gross told the driver to open the door.

A witness stated that the driver’s door was opened by the driver. It is believed that Gross was standing just a few feet from the driver, and Trooper Gross must have observed the gun. At this point, Trooper Gross turned to move away, and the driver fired a single round from a .45 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun.

This bullet struck Trooper Gross in the left elbow area, traveled down his arm, exiting at his wrist. Later this bullet was located stuck to the liner of his jacket.

Trooper Gross being lefthanded, and now without the use of his gun hand, retreated away from the vehicle.

A witness stated, “Trooper Gross slipped and fell, got back up, and had started running back toward the patrol vehicle bent forward when they saw and heard two more shots being fired.”

One of the two rounds fired, struck Trooper Gross just above the belt line, and below the soft body armor, he was wearing.

According to the Coroner’s report, the bullet traveled upward, and severed his aortic arch, most likely killing him instantly. Trooper Gross fell at the rear of his patrol car. At this point, White left the scene and drove off going Northbound on I-71.

With the shooting observed by a number of commercial vehicle drivers, who then transmitted the events on their citizen band radios, the Highway Patrol Units were able to locate the suspect’s vehicle. A high-speed pursuit covering 29 miles ensued.

White wrecked his vehicle while trying to exit the interstate at SR-18, Medina exit. White was then subsequently captured without incident.

White was later convicted of Capital Murder in Ashland County Common Pleas Court. 

I recently had a phone conversation with Dale LaRue a retired former Sergeant at Ohio State Highway Patrol a friend, and co-worker, of Trooper Gross.

We were talking about the profound effects this shooting had and the changes that have been made since then. Sergeant LaRue said, “as a result of the death, of Trooper James R. Gross, Unit 1413, a new program was instituted within Law Enforcement in the State of Ohio.”

The following is an entry from (A History of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.)

“In the summer of 1996, the Division and Colonel Davies launched a new officer safety tool, dubbed the COP (Caution Ohio Police) Initiative, created to offset a communications deficiency which hindered the communication of critical information among agencies. The COP Initiative was an early warning system that alerted officers to potentially dangerous suspects.

When law enforcement suspected a person of fleeing a crime, police officials could make a COP entry in Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) to assure that if an officer contacted the suspect before obtaining and placing online a proper warrant, the officer would be aware of the potential danger.

Although officers could not use a COP entry as a basis to detain or arrest, it did help assure that officers did not blindly approach a potentially deadly situation.”

Asking Chief Marcelli of the Ashland Police Division about some of the effects that this had on APD then and now, Chief Marcelli commented, “Coming just a year after the tragic loss of Lt. John Gisclon, Trooper Gross's death had a profound effect on everyone at the Ashland Police Division. The COPs bulletins became a regular part of every shift. These bulletins alone became a daily reminder of Jim's sacrifice. Law Enforcement tactics training changed as a result of this incident and have probably saved lives as well. Trips to Trooper Gross's memorial have become a permanent part of our FTO program. His sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

Trooper James Gross had a profound influence on the Ashland Community and leaves a lasting legacy.  He was only 27 years old at the time of his death.

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