Smithsburg police chief recalls shooting

November 11, 1996


Staff Writer

Smithsburg Police Chief Tommy Bowers has fired his gun in the line of duty only twice in his 13 years of service with three police agencies.

The second time came early Sunday when Bowers, 46, fired off eight rounds as he tried to avoid being struck by a suspect's car, he said.

The driver of the car, Richard A. Sheffler, 29, of Waynesboro, Pa., was struck in the legs by one of the shots from Bowers' gun, Maryland State Police said.


Sheffler, of the 300 block of West Sixth Street, has been charged with assaulting a police officer, driving while intoxicated, destruction of property - a police car - and numerous traffic violations, police said.

Bond has been set at $200,000 for Sheffler, who was under police guard at Washington County Hospital Monday. He was listed in good condition, a hospital spokesman said.

Bowers said he wasn't hurt in the 2:15 a.m. incident.

"It was different,'' Bowers said of the experience in a telephone interview from his home.

Bowers had just joined the high-speed police pursuit of Sheffler on Md. 491 when Sheffler's car spun on the wet road and stopped, police said.

Maryland State Trooper Ronald R. Coccodrilli, 35, and a Washington Township, Pa., officer, approached the car from behind, police said.

Sheffler put his car in reverse and rammed the township cruiser, then drove forward as Bowers was approaching the car from the front, police alleged.

"His headlights were out and I thought he was in custody,'' Bowers said. "Then all of a sudden, the lights came on and he was heading right for me.''

Bowers said he came to an abrupt stop, slipped on the wet roadway and, as he fell, pointed his gun at the approaching car.

"I fired eight times,'' Bowers said. He said he rolled away to avoid being hit by the 1980s model Dodge Charger. One bullet went through the car door and hit Sheffler in the leg, Bowers said.

Seeing Bowers fall, Coccodrilli also fired, police said.

Both officers carry Beretta 9mm weapons, but Bowers said he uses a different type of bullet than Coccodrilli, and knows it was his bullet that hit Sheffler.

Wounded in the lower right leg, Sheffler drove about a mile before he surrendered at a roadblock, police said.

The chase began on Leitersburg Pike when Coccodrilli clocked a car driving at 70 mph in a 50 mph zone, police said. It moved into Pennsylvania on Pa. 16, where Maryland police were joined by a Washington Township (Pa.) police car, police said.

Near Fort Ritchie, Sheffler's car hit the township cruiser, police said.

Sgt. Vincent Moss of the Maryland State Police internal affairs unit said his office was conducting an investigation, which is standard procedure when a shooting involves police.

Bowers said he had been placed on administrative leave with pay.

Smithsburg chief for two years, Bowers was a Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy for 10 years and a Williamsport town police officer for one year.

On Sept. 25, 1979, Bowers was a deputy on routine patrol on Raven Rock Road when he heard a noise and felt pain from broken glass from the front window of his cruiser.

"I was ambushed,'' Bowers said of that earlier incident.

Bowers stopped his vehicle and took cover in an orchard. He saw a figure running from where the shot had been fired and he fired several shots. No one was apprehended in that incident, Bowers said.

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