YORK, Pa. — A man fatally shot in a Pennsylvania bar Saturday had defended a black man from racial slurs, police said.
Chad Merrill, 25, was fatally shot in the chest after defending a black man who was being called the N-word and other racial slurs.
James Saylor, the suspected gunman, allegedly had already shot a round from his .45-caliber handgun, the bullet ricocheting off the exterior of the Red Rose Restaurant and Lounge, when Merrill appeared at the driver's side window of Saylor's truck.
"He was literally two feet from the vehicle," Hellam Township Police Chief Doug Pollock said of Merrill.
Saylor, 24, had been inside the Red Rose early Saturday morning, allegedly harassing a black patron, Jerrell Douglas. Merrill had come to Douglas' defense and the bar's owner eventually threw Saylor out.
With Merrill at his window, Saylor shot him once in the chest, police say. He then hit the gas, smashed into a car in the parking lot along in Hellam Township, Pennsylvania, and drove off, Pollock said.
Several police departments joined in a swift manhunt, tracking Saylor to his parents' Lower Windsor Township home, where he lived in the basement, Pollock said.
Witnesses speculated Merrill may have been trying to do some peacekeeping, and Pollock thought possibly he was "trying to right the wrong." Family members said that sounds just like what he would have done.
But Pollock said Sunday detectives are not sure what Merrill's intentions were when it appears he followed Saylor out to the parking lot. But they do know what happened before that, and what followed.
A 'racial incident' in the bar
"It was a racial incident; that's how it kicked off," Pollock said.
After examining surveillance footage from the bar, police determined that there were a number of male patrons seated at the bar when Saylor squeezed his way into the group, Pollock said.
There was a man in between Saylor and Douglas, but that didn't stop Saylor from allegedly harassing him, including using the N-word and other racial slurs.
"You could tell he was giving him crap. ... He's being a jerk," Pollock said.
The other men at the bar tried to ignore Saylor. Merrill, who was seated next to Douglas, but further away from Saylor, was telling Douglas to let it go, and tried to get Douglas to focus on him, rather than Saylor.
"He (Douglas) didn't escalate anything," Pollock said. "He did the right thing."
Pollock said it's not known whether Saylor and Merrill exchanged words with each other inside the bar.
Still, owner Nick Spagnolo wasn't standing for Saylor's behavior and escorted him out of the bar.
Shooting in the parking lot
Surveillance footage shows Saylor walking out to the Red Rose parking lot and over to a pickup truck. He tries to get in, but the truck is not his, Pollock says.
That's when Saylor, with his back to the bar, pulls a gun from his shorts, half-turns toward the bar and fires.
"He had a gun shoved into the waistband in the front of his shorts," Pollock said.
The bullet glanced off the building and was found in a nearby grassy area. At that point, Saylor finds his truck and gets inside, starting up the engine, police said.
But then, an Uber driver pulls into the parking lot, temporarily preventing Saylor from leaving.
The Uber driver's coincidental appearance allowed Merrill — who had emerged from the bar and into the parking lot — to catch up with Saylor, Pollock said.
"He was right there, standing next to the truck," Pollock said.
After allegedly shooting Merrill in the chest, Saylor blasts out of the parking lot, striking the Uber driver's vehicle as he flees.
Investigation and arrest
When Saylor was named as a possible suspect, a police officer who had issued a ticket to Saylor recently had Saylor's address, Pollock said.
When officers arrived at Saylor's home, they found a pickup truck with fresh damage, matching the crash with the Uber driver, Pollock said.
Saylor was arrested. During the police investigation, they found blood on the rear driver's side door of Saylor's truck.
Inside the truck's center console, police found Saylor's gun, allegedly used in Merrill's death. Also inside the truck was a shell casing from the bullet that struck Merrill, Pollock said.
During an interview with police, Saylor said he owned a gun and said he knew where he put it, but that was about it.
"He never once acted like he knew what he did," Pollock said.
Follow Ted Czech on Twitter: @TedCzech