Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Deputy saves woman; shooter commits suicide

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

TURTLECREEK TWP. - A Warren County sheriff's deputy was hailed as a hero Monday after he came upon a shooting scene and distracted the gunman long enough for a potential victim to escape.

Moments later, the gunman, Jay Tomlinson of Milford, fatally shot himself. Police said he had already fired three shots into the car of his estranged wife, Rhonda Tomlinson, 35, wounding her roommate, Charles Smith, 36.

Smith was struck twice in the arm and was listed in good condition Monday evening at Bethesda North Hospital.

Warren County Sheriff Tom Ariss said Deputy Jerry Niffenegger was on his way home from the third shift Monday morning when he stopped on Ohio 123 at Dorothy Drive about 8:30 a.m.

At first, the four-year veteran thought there had been a traffic accident. But then he saw a woman lying in the road. Tomlinson stood over her, a pistol trained down on her.

"It's a damn good thing he was there," Ariss said. "Just him being there, his presence, got this guy to thinking, `I don't want to do this.' He got him distracted. It got her away from him."

Rhonda Tomlinson, of Blanchester, was able to run to safety.

Jay Tomlinson, whose 41st birthday was less than a week ago, then fired into his chest as his estranged wife, Niffenegger and other motorists watched.

Detectives said the incident started when Jay Tomlinson followed his wife home from her job at Innatech in Lebanon and ran her Camaro off the road into a ditch with his teal Ford pickup truck. He then got out of his truck, fired three rounds from his .44 Magnum through the Camaro's windshield, striking Smith, who was the passenger. Jay Tomlinson cornered his wife as she tried to escape.

Ariss said she and Smith told detectives they resided together to share living costs and were not romantically involved.

According to sheriff's officials, the Tomlinsons were separated since December following a domestic violence incident and had protective orders filed against each other in Clinton County.

Clermont County court records indicate the couple had marital problems for nearly a year and that Jay Tomlinson had sought a protective order against his wife in domestic relations court last April.

E-mail smclaughlin@enquirer.com

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