On Thursday, prosecutors in Jackson County, Missouri, charged a youngster from southeast Missouri with murder in the shooting de@th of a 53-year-old man on Interstate 70 near Oak Grove. After a 17-hour manhunt, Cape Girardeau native Charles J. Smith Jr. was apprehended after he allegedly eluded authorities on Interstate 70 by leaving his disabled vehicle and running away on foot.
After a 40-mile manhunt, police say they located Smith hiding near Sweet Springs, Texas. Smith has been arrested and charged with the second-degree murder of Oak Grove resident Gary L. Denham, as well as unlawful weapon use and armed criminal action. His bond was set at $250,000 at the time.
As of Thursday night, neither the case nor Smith’s legal representation could be located in the online court records. Approximately 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Denham’s Ford pickup exited the roadway and slammed into a parked automobile at a travel center, according to charging documents.
Oak Grove police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol were summoned to investigate. The door to the driver’s compartment was riddled with bullet holes. The police also observed white paint on the back of the truck bed. Denham was shot and sent to the hospital. On Wednesday, his de@th was confirmed at the hospital.
A white Hyundai sedan and the pickup were reportedly involved in an act of “road rage” that witnesses reported to the police. A “popping noise” was heard just before the pickup went off the road, and a white vehicle was seen colliding with the pickup by another witness.
Meanwhile, in Lafayette County, troopers spotted a car matching the description given by witnesses. After attempting to stop the driver, they gave chase. Police employed stop sticks to disable the automobile as the pursuit proceeded east on I-70 into Saline County. The driver abandoned the vehicle in a field and fled.
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As the manhunt began, authorities requested ground and air assistance. The sedan’s passenger window was broken, and a traffic ticket was found inside. It had Smith’s name and had been issued some three weeks before. On March 17, the Highway Patrol conducted a traffic stop in Saline County and detained Smith. He was supposedly armed at the time.
As the search for Smith continued on Thursday morning, a tip came in that a man matching his description had stopped by a convenience store in Sweet Springs the night before. Using footage from surveillance cameras, the police were able to confirm Smith’s presence.
Smith was discovered hiding in the back of an auto shop just before 10 a.m. He was hauled into custody and lodged in the Saline County lockup. Smith told police that the pickup driver was being hostile and profane before he was cut off, drove into his vehicle, and then fled the area.
It was a “warning shot,” he claimed in court papers, fired in a fit of blind rage at the Ford. After crashing into the stop sticks, he informed officers he tossed the rifle. Investigators claimed afterward that they used the interviewee’s statements to help them find a gun on the side of the road.
Court records state that a pistol matching Smith’s description was discovered a mile and a half from where the Hyundai was left. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker issued a statement Thursday thanking the Highway Patrol for its leadership in the investigation into the shooting and subsequent manhunt. The shooting, she added, was a “needless act of violence.”
“A family is now without a husband and father who was everything to them,” Baker said. “Our roadways are necessary and busy with other travelers getting to their destinations. They must remain safe. Everyone should take note: take a breath, show some restraint, and let everyone get to their destination safely.”
If found guilty of second-degree murder in Missouri, Smith faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison. Armed criminal action is an unclassified crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison for a first offense, and the use of a weapon in an unlawful manner carries a maximum term of life in prison.
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