An eight-hour manhunt for a suspect who shot at a Columbus police officer ended when the suspect died in an exchange of gunfire with an Indiana State Police trooper.
Quentin Starke, 44, of 25 Huffman Drive, Columbus, was sought by police for shooting at Columbus Police Department Sgt. Josh McCrary early Saturday.
He was located at 12:21 p.m. on the east bank of the East Fork White River by a trooper searching the area, police said. Starke, who had been hiding in a wooded, secluded area, fired a firearm at the trooper and missed.
The trooper returned fire and, during an exchange of gunfire, Starke was struck and died, said Sgt. Jerry Goodin, an Indiana State Police public information officer.
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Goodin said it’s uncertain if Starke died from a gunshot wound from the trooper’s firearm or Starke’s own firearm, but a pending autopsy and further ballistics tests would provide answers.
After Starke was apprehended, first aid was administered but he was pronounced dead at the scene, Goodin said.
Later in the afternoon, state police investigators executed a search warrant at the Huffman Drive home where Starke lived with his parents to gather more information. The home is just north of the Columbus Wastewater Treatment Plant, 3465 Jonesville Road, and the area where the shooting incident with McCrary occurred.
Starke previously had been arrested on drug-related charges. He was booked into the Bartholomew County Jail on Aug. 27, 2015, on charges of possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia, illegal possession of ginseng and illegal possession of a rattlesnake by the Department of Natural Resources.
The manhunt began about 4:20 a.m. Saturday when McCrary attempted to stop a Toyota Camry at the intersection of Washington and 11th streets in downtown Columbus.
McCrary attempted to stop Starke for a traffic infraction, but it’s unknown why Starke didn’t stop, Goodin said.
“The only person that knows the answers to that is Quentin Starke. We’ll never be able to get that information now. We have no idea why he decided to run, and have no idea why he decided to pull out a rifle and shoot at a Columbus police officer, and we have no idea why he shot a firearm at an Indiana State Trooper,” Goodin said.
After Starke failed to stop, a pursuit began. Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputies placed tire-deflation devices at State Road 11 leading into Garden City, which the vehicle was believed to have run over as it continued south on the highway, said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department spokesman.
Starke then turned left onto a paved county road that leads past the wastewater treatment plant, and turns into a gravel road that leads to farmland and toward a treeline by the west bank of the East Fork White River. Starke exited the Camry and fired at least one shot from a long gun at McCrary, said Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, a second Indiana State Police public information officer.
Starke then fled into a wooded area.
In the earlier exchange, McCrary did not return fire at the suspect but radioed police dispatch that he had been shot and requested assistance, Wheeles said.
Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department deputies, Columbus Police Department officers and Indiana State Police troopers provided assistance to McCrary.
McCrary, a nine-year police department veteran, was treated and released from Columbus Regional Hospital on Saturday morning. Police still are determining if he was injured from a bullet or debris, Wheeles said.
Police began the search for Starke in the area east of State Road 11 near the wastewater treatment plant.
“We felt like what had happened is he had gotten to that area, probably familiar with that area around here and where he was at, and had probably hunkered down and was trying to wait it out until dark,” Goodin said.
Police described the then-unidentified suspect as a white male, late 30s or early 40s in age, 6 feet tall, 190 pounds, red or brown hair and wearing a black shirt, jeans and a ball cap.
Goodin said that after the initial encounter between Starke and McCrary, information gathered by investigators led them to believe they had an idea who they were searching for, but Starke’s name was not released because they have to be certain before doing so.
During a morning press briefing, Wheeles told reporters that police had not recovered the gun used to shoot at McCrary, leading them to warn residents that the suspect was armed and dangerous.
Police set up a perimeter and asked local residents to avoid the Garden City area. A softball game was canceled at Southside Elementary School, 1320 W. 200 South, for safety reasons and Columbus residents were advised to call 911 if they spotted someone matching the suspect’s description.
However, police received no reports of residents encountering Starke, Goodin said.
Searchers used Garden City Church of Christ, just north of the wastewater treatment plant, as a staging area when the church offered its facilities and assistance to officers.
Shawn Mahoney of Seymour and Dale Marks of Columbus, both members of the church, said the men’s group offered to cook breakfast for the officers, which officers thanked them for but declined.
“We did take the time to pray for them,” Mahoney said.
Multiple police agencies, including the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, state police, city police officers and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources searched for Starke by boat, on foot and with four-wheelers along East Fork White River near the wastewater treatment plant throughout the day Saturday.
An Indiana State Police helicopter searched the Garden City area from the air at sunrise, and police also used a drone in their search, Wheeles said.
Conversations by authorities over the police scanner indicated that police had found what they believed to be the suspect’s black shirt near a pathway leading to the river at about 11:15 a.m. and had recovered two shell casings.
The description of Starke, at the time unidentified, was slightly revised at noon Saturday to include that he would have to be muddy and wet based on the search around the river and where police believe he went into the water, based on the location of the shirt.
After the gunfire exchange between Starke and the trooper, police scanner traffic indicated officers reported that shots were fired and officers found the individual “down.”
Officers requested an ambulance and LifeLine helicopter at the scene, but had difficulty getting emergency vehicles there because reaching the suspect required going through farm fields to the river bank, with some of the pathway blocked by farm equipment. A tree line along the riverfront also needed to be traversed to reach the east side of the riverbank.
Minutes after the suspect was reported “down,” officers reported to dispatch that he had stopped breathing and they had lost a pulse as emergency responders continued to work out how to get to the scene.
McCrary was placed on indefinite administrative leave from Columbus Police Department, which is standard procedure for officer-involved shooting incidents, Harris said.
“He’ll be on administrative leave as his body heals and the state police continue the investigation,” Harris said.