Traffic congested near the junction of I-96 and U.S.-23, in the area where police searched for the suspected I-96 shooter. (Courtesy: Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press)
DETROIT (Det. Free Press) -- Federal officials and CrimeStoppers of Michigan are offering a $102,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the man randomly shooting on southeast Michigan highways.
Calling the case a "top priority," David McCain, special agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Detroit office said a significant number of additional investigators are now involved. He announced the increased reward surrounded by law enforcement from the FBI, Michigan State Police and local counties.
"These senseless shootings must be stopped," McCain said. "This individual has no regard for public safety and is attempting to cause injury and fear to citizens that utilize I-96 on an everyday basis. The danger and burden these shooting incidents place on our citizens is unacceptable."
ATF had offered $25,000 and CrimeStoppers $2,000 for information shortly after 25 reports of someone firing a gun at cars from Oakland to Ingham counties began on Oct. 16. Today, ATF increased their reward to $50,000, which the FBI is matching.
No one had been injured until Saturday, when a Kalamazoo-area man driving east on I-96 to the World Series game in Detroit was wounded in the hip. Scott Arnold, a 46-year-old plastics salesman, told the Free Press on Sunday that the bullet is lodged in his buttocks and likely won't be removed. Thinking his tire blew after hearing a loud pop, Arnold didn't know he'd been shot until he pulled over and noticed blood on his pants.
"His vehicle is moving in one direction, and the victim's vehicle is moving in the opposite direction," Clarence Goodlein, director of the Wixom Police Department, explained about how investigators believe the shootings occur. A victim driving on M-52 in Ingham County at about 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 saw a handgun being waved out the driver's window of an oncoming car before a shot was fired at him, Goodlein said. The victim helped police create a sketch of the suspect, believed to be a man in his 30s with nearly shaved hair and a tattoo on the left side of his neck. The shooter was driving a 10- to 12-year-old, dark-colored, four-door car with a body style similar to an old Toyota Camry or Oldsmobile Alero, according to investigators.
Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw said the multi-agency task force has reviewed more than 600 tips received through Sunday regarding the shooter.
Earlier today, a woman to call 911 to report her vehicle was shot as she drove southbound on U.S.-23. Shaw said she pulled over at about 9 a.m., and troopers came to the scene just north of I-96 in Brighton. But a crime scene lab technician determined it was probably a rock or other item, and not a bullet, Shaw said.
"We can't totally rule that out yet, because they need to take (the vehicle) back to the crime lab, just to make sure there aren't any other fragments that might change what they believe it to be," Shaw said.
With a suspect still at large, a call from the woman today triggered a widespread law enforcement response in the I-96-U.S.-23 area. Michigan State Police patrols blanketed the highways, scouring the area for a suspect.
At about 10:30 a.m., they spotted Grant Elliott driving his four-door dark blue 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier southbound in the same area. With similar short, shaved hair and a neck tattoo like the suspect, Elliott, 30, was pulled over by Michigan State Police along southbound U.S.-23 as he headed home from his job building houses. Investigators discovered he had a suspended license and outstanding child support warrants, towed the car and took him in. But he was later released, and is not a suspect, Shaw said.
"He is not a suspect in anything," Shaw said. "He was just kind of caught up in the incident."
Elliott, of Brighton said today was the first he'd heard about the shootings and the situation.
"I feel unfortunate for all the people it's happening to," Elliott said outside his home in Brighton after his release. "I don't know what else to say. I don't watch the news because I don't care what's going on out here. My family's all I care about. That's what I do everyday - I go to work, come home, that's it."
The reported shooting put Brighton Area Schools on temporary lockdown. Superintendent Greg Gray said parents were notified by e-mail and that the 6,000 student district would not let anyone in or out of buildings until police notified them that it was safe to do so.
"We thought we'd err on the side of caution," he said.
Shaw said people in the area should remain calm, stay alert, carry on their business and know that police are working diligently on the case.
"What we don't want to do is blow it way out of proportion," he said. "What we're trying to tell the public is take a breath. Be aware of your surroundings. But don't alter your routine."