HELLAM TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A Pennsylvania man is dead after police and witnesses allege he was gunned down for defending a friend from an onslaught of racial slurs inside a bar.
Chad Merrill, 25, of Lower Windsor Township, was killed Saturday outside the Red Rose Restaurant and Lounge in Hellam Township. Hellam Township police officials said Merrill died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.
James Michael Saylor, 24, also of Lower Windsor Township, is charged with criminal homicide in Merrill’s death.
The York Daily Record reported that both men were inside the bar early Saturday morning when Saylor allegedly began hurling racial slurs at a black patron, Jerrell Douglas. Merrill came to Douglas' defense.
"He would help anybody for anything," Merrill's mother, Pearl Wise, told Fox43 in York.
Hellam Township Police Chief Doug Pollock told the Daily Record that surveillance footage from inside the Red Rose showed Saylor harassing Douglas.
"You could tell he was giving him crap," Pollock said. "He's being a jerk."
Others at the bar attempted to ignore Saylor, and Merrill, who was seated next to Douglas, tried to get him to let the harassment go and concentrate on their own conversation.
"He (Douglas) didn't escalate anything," Pollock told the Daily Record. "He did the right thing."
Ultimately, the bar owner kicked Saylor out because of his behavior.
Surveillance footage from cameras outside the bar shows Saylor walk toward his 2010 Chevy Silverado pickup, according to an affidavit obtained by the Daily Record. At one point, he appeared to turn back toward the building and fire a shot from his .45-caliber handgun.
The video then shows Merrill walk outside and toward Saylor’s vehicle. He soon falls to the ground.
The young father of a 5-month-old son was shot point-blank.
"He was literally 2 feet from the vehicle," Pollock told the Daily Record.
Pollock said witnesses suggested Merrill may have been trying to smooth over the earlier fight.
"Maybe he was trying to right a wrong," Pollock said.
Saylor fled the area in his pickup truck, but struck a Mazda sedan on his way out of the parking lot, authorities said.
Damage from the crash helped police officers from multiple agencies find the vehicle later that morning, the Daily Record said. It and Saylor were found at his parents' home in Lower Windsor Township, where he lives in the basement.
Besides the damage from the crash in the Red Rose parking lot, officers also found blood on the rear driver's side door of Saylor's truck, the Daily Record reported. The gun Saylor is accused of using to kill Merrill was found in the center console, and a single spent shell casing was also found, according to the affidavit.
Merrill was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 50 minutes after the shooting, the newspaper reported.
A GoFundMe page set up to pay for Merrill's funeral and to help his family had, as of Wednesday around noon, raised nearly $60,000. The original goal was $15,000.
The victim’s family described him as a man who just wanted people to get along and who saw everyone as equals.
"He didn't understand why people didn't like other people for stupid things like race, age or whatever the case may be," his brother, Bobby Merrill, told the Daily Record. "It's hard to wrap my head around this. How do you just have so much hate inside of you that you kill someone?"
Wise told Fox43 her son loved his infant son, Layton.
"He used to tell me in the mornings, he'd get up and he'd say, 'Mom, he had me up all night, but you know what? I can't even be mad because he's so darn cute,'" Wise said. "That's what he'd say to me."
Jessica Godden, Layton’s mother, said she is struggling with how she will explain his father’s absence when he gets older.
"He's going to grow up and not have anyone to call Daddy," Godden told the newspaper. "But we won't let him forget."
Bobby Merrill expressed similar sentiments.
"He was the best dad," Merrill said of his brother. "He would do anything to make this little boy laugh, and I want him to know that. I'll make sure he knows his dad was a hero."
Cox Media Group