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Family waits for repairs to home after police shootout

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For five hours in July, Rick and Sonja Cool waited with their two children behind their Nicholas County house as police shot it out with their elderly neighbor.

They returned to their home after the standoff ended to find dozens of bullet holes in their bedroom, their living room and their children's bedrooms.

Sonja Cool believed police would step in and help repair the damage they caused, but they've waited months, and nothing has happened.

Nicholas County Prosecuting Attorney James P. Milam said this week that he's filed a claim with the county's insurance carrier -- which should have been filed immediately after the incident.

The problems began at about 9 a.m. on July 6. Sonja Cool called 911 about her 84-year-old neighbor, John C. Evans. She said he was standing on his front porch with a rifle, firing shots indiscriminately.

"I said, 'Please let police know he is confused. He's an elderly man and this is not like him,'" Sonja Cool said. "'Please tell the policemen to be careful.'"

When two Nicholas County sheriff's deputies arrived at the house on 293 Little Trail Road, one of them stepped onto the porch and was wounded with a shotgun blast. As more officers arrived on the scene, a second deputy was shot.

Officers from six agencies surrounded the house but could not successfully communicate with Evans, who had barricaded himself inside and was sporadically shooting at them through doors and windows.

Officers tried to talk to him using a bullhorn, by telephone and by using a robot that usually is used by bomb squads but also is used for hostage negotiations. They also used tear gas to try to get Evans out of the house.

Nicholas County emergency dispatchers told the Cools to stay locked inside their house. Sonja Cool and her husband took their 11-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to a lower part of the house for safety, but they could still hear hundreds of bullets buzzing around the house.

"The police had my house surrounded; they had his house surrounded," she said. "It was just total chaos."

Eventually, one officer noticed the family was still inside their home and came to escort them out. The officer instructed the Cools to run into the woods behind their house until someone came and got them.

Sonja Cool said that's where her family waited for five hours, listening to the gunshots.

At about 12:45 p.m., just after firing a number of shots out the front door of his house, Evans walked out the back door holding a shotgun, the West Virginia State Police said. He was shot and killed by officers before he was able to fire his weapon.

A police officer came and got the Cools but told them they could not return to their house because it was an active crime scene, Sonja Cool said. They stayed at a neighbor's house until later that night.

When they came home, they found that police had gone through their house and removed every bullet.

"[Police] told us not to worry about the damages to the house," Sonja Cool said, "and we just assumed they would take care of it without question."

After not hearing from police for several months, the Cools sought the help of Charleston attorney Kathy Brown. No lawsuit has been filed.

Milam said it's standard practice that insurance claims be filed with police agencies involved in damaging someone's home. He's not sure what took so long for a claim to be filed.

He said he had talked to Brown.

"I told her to let me know whatever I can do to help."

State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said he would not comment on the situation because of the potential lawsuit.

Sonja Cool said her husband has repaired some of the holes with silicon to keep the cold air out.

"I never expected anything like this to happen and for my kids to have to go through it," she said. "My 11-year-old daughter has nightmares and my 2-year-old boy is terrified of policemen. It's been an ordeal that has turned our lives upside down."

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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