Drowned man had court date

February 17, 1997


Staff Writer

The Williamsport man who drowned in the icy waters of the Conococheague Creek after bolting from police early Sunday was scheduled to be in court today for a drug hearing.

James Edward McGowan, 33, was scheduled for a hearing on a defense motion to exclude evidence today in Washington County Circuit Court.

The hearing related to a 1996 charge against McGowan of possession with intent to distribute a non-controlled substance intended for use and distribution as crack cocaine, according to records from the Washington County Narcotics Task Force.


Police have alleged that drugs were found in the pickup truck in which McGowan was sitting on Sunday when approached by officers. The vehicle was parked on posted property off Kemp's Mill Road near Williamsport.

The earlier charges stemmed from a July 20, 1996, incident in which McGowan was apprehended by Hagerstown City Police, who found three individually wrapped pieces of a white substance in his pants pocket, police reports said.

The pieces turned out to be chunks of Dove soap, a bar of which was found in the car McGowan was driving when police stopped the vehicle in July, police reports said. McGowan attempted to flee on foot in that case, police reports said.

When caught on West Church Street in July, he gave police the name James Edward Myers and said he had a Florida driver's license, police reports said.

On Sunday, police had listed his name as James Eugene McGowan. Under that name, no criminal information turned up in Washington County.

"We checked Washington County and there were no outstanding arrest warrants out on James Eugene McGowan," Sgt. Doug Mullendore said on Monday.

That wasn't the case in nearby Berkeley County, W.Va., according to Capt. C.E. Keller of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

Keller said that James Eugene McGowan's prior record there included charges of battery, bad checks and trespassing. James Edward McGowan's birthdate of Aug. 11, 1963, was on the James Eugene McGowan criminal record, Keller said.

McGowan's girlfriend, Tina Shelton, said he would run because he didn't want to be beaten by police "for doing nothing."

On Sunday, McGowan and two other people were spotted in a parked pickup at 2:30 a.m. by Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Byers.

Deputies said that officers were in the Kemp's Mill area searching for a van suspected in an alleged rape case. When they came upon the pickup, they approached it because it was illegally parked on private property, deputies said.

After approaching the vehicle and asking for identification from the trio, Byers said he returned to his cruiser to run a check of the names when Deputy Robert Whittington approached to back him up.

"Just as Whittington drove up, I heard him say on the radio that one was running," Byers said. "I looked up and saw a man running from the truck."

The two officers followed McGowan to the bank of the creek, saw that McGowan had jumped in and was wading upstream.

In the water, McGowan ducked behind a tree, and appeared to be trying to hide something in the water, police said.

"We checked that whole area and found nothing," Byers said Monday.

Deputies said McGowan slipped under the water as officers waited for a boat, an ambulance and a helicopter that had been called to the scene.

Larry Shelton, 19, the brother of McGowan's girlfriend, was in the truck along with a woman who was not charged in the incident, police said.

Deputies found what appeared to be marijuana in the truck.

On Monday, Shelton said he didn't have any drugs in the truck and noted that he wasn't charged with possession of illegal drugs, only with hindering police by giving a false name.

Shelton said he watched McGowan go into the creek but said he subsequently saw that deputies had him out on the bank a short time later and had their guns trained on his head.

Shelton said he watched one of the deputies reach behind his back where officers keep handcuffs and head toward McGowan, whom Shelton said was on the creek bank.

He said he didn't actually see handcuffs being put on McGowan, but that he believes they were.

"Then I saw Jimmy go back in the water and I heard him calling for help," Shelton said. He said McGowan's head was bobbing up and down as if he were handcuffed.

Byers denied Monday that McGowan was handcuffed at any time.

"There's just no truth to that story," Byers said.

Williamsport Ambulance Company personnel helped recover the body from the creek about two hours later, police said.

Williamsport Ambulance Co. Chief Dave Hays said Monday he did not go out on the call, but he spoke with rescuers when they returned, and no mention was made of handcuffs.

McGowan's body was sent to Baltimore Sunday for autopsy.

The Conococheague Creek is about 70 to 90 feet wide in the area where McGowan went into the water, said Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades.

The water temperature was probably 34 to 36 degrees when McGowan went in, said Ray Harner, a Department of Natural Resources Police officer.

Harner said it doesn't take long for a person submerged in water that cold to develop hypothermia.

The deputies didn't go into the creek because the water was frigid and they were advised by their dispatcher not to try it.

Shelton said he wanted to go into the creek after McGowan but the deputies wouldn't let him.

Tina Shelton said she is upset that the deputies didn't go into the water after McGowan.

"They were supposed to save him, that's what they are supposed to do, isn't it?" Tina Shelton said. "They just let him die."

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