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Police recover gun, charge Westminster man in shooting in Eldersburg that left one dead

The owner of the Harvest Inn in Eldersburg said Friday there was no warning — and in his mind, no precedent — for the early morning shooting that left one man dead and another injured, and turned the parking lot of his family restaurant and lounge into a homicide crime scene this morning.

"It's baffling to me," said Tony Trombetta, who has run the restaurant in the 2000 block of Liberty Road since 1993. "This isn't the kind of thing that happens around here."

David J. Garrett, 36, of Carmae Road, in Sykesville, died when he suffered multiple gunshot wounds in a confrontation on the parking lot of the Harvest Inn shortly after midnight, according to Maryland State Police.

A second man, Gary Hale, of Granite Road, in Woodstock, was shot in the arm during the incident and was transported to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where police said Thursday he continues to recover.

At about 7 a.m., police arrested Jacob B. Bircher, 24, of Wimert Avenue, Westminster, in connection with the incident. Police said he surrendered after police contacted him by phone and met him in the parking lot of the Church of the Open Door, along Route 140 in Westminster.

Greg Shipley, spokesman for the state police, said investigators had contact individuals and relatives of Bircher once he had been identified as a suspect, and spotted a friend's car that he was driving in Westminster — literally at the same time he was reached by phone.

"It was almost simultaneous," said Shipley. "Officers spotted the car, he spotted the police and he pulled over. ... He surrendered peacefully."

Investigators said they later obtained search warrants and recovered a .40-caliber pistol from Bircher's own vehicle — which was parked at his girlfriend's mother's home on Gemini Drive, Eldersburg, not far from where the shooting occurred.

The gun was legally registered to Bircher, police said.

By late afternoon Friday, police formally charged Bircher with first degree murder, second degree murder, attempted first degree murder and attempted second degree murder. Police said additional charges are possible. He was taken to the Carroll County Central Booking Center where, as of late Thursday afternoon, he was awaiting an initial appearance before a court commissioner.

Police had gotten the 911 call from the Cheers Lounge — which is connected to Harvest Inn — shortly after midnight, and arrived to find two men laying in the parking lot just outside the doors to the lounge — one dead, the other injured.

Police said investigators talked to more than two dozen people who were in and around the restaurant at the time of the shooting, and their investigation indicated several people, including Garrett, Hale and Bircher were on the parking lot talking when, for unknown reasons, Bircher began shooting, police said. Witnesses told police that the suspect left the scene in a dark colored compact vehicle.

Trombetta said he wasn't at the Cheers Lounge at the time of the shooting, but got a call from his bartender after police were called, and was told, "you better get over here right now."

He said when he arrived, police had closed the parking lot, and were in the midst of their investigation.

Trombetta said that after taking to his staff, he determined that neither the alleged shooter or the victim was know to anyone as a "regular." The lounge has an open mic night on Thursdays, and he said it has drawn new customers lately.

"Nobody knew him," he said specifically of the alleged shooter.

He also said there had been no warning to staff that trouble was brewing — no arguments or exchanges inside the bar.

"There was no fight, no confrontation, nothing behind this at all," he said.

Trombetta said customers often go outside to smoke, and then come back in. He believed that was the situation Friday morning, and that's why several people were on the parking lot.

In fact, he said that because Bircher was unknown to staffers, they asked to hold a credit card with his tab until the end of the evening. Trombetta said the lounge still had his credit card, and police took it as evidence.

"I suppose that's how they identified him," he said.

Shipley would not specifically confirm that, but acknowledged that, "evidence gathered at the scene" led police to identify Bircher as a suspect. It was "good police work," he said.

Trombetta said Friday afternoon that in nearly 20 years of operating the Harvest Inn, he recalled "maybe five scuffles" that had occurred there. Nothing like this, he said.

He said his bartender was "drained" by the incident, and recounted one story from staffers who said a customer took off his shirt and his belt and applied them to Hale's arm wound, trying to stop the bleeding, until medical personnel arrived.

At about 7 a.m., as customers were finally able to claims their cars and leave the lot after the police investigation, Trombetta talked to many regulars and apologized for the inconvenience.

"They said, 'It's not your fault.' They seemed to understand that it wasn't anything we did," he said.

"It just came out of the blue."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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