A Maryland fugitive described by investigators as a serial molester of children died in a fiery crash on an Ohio highway early yesterday when the stolen car he was driving crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer as police gave chase, authorities said.
Kyle Winston Sherrill, 54, charged in the June 25 kidnapping of a 6-year-old Ohio girl and wanted for questioning in a similar abduction in Illinois, was dead on impact shortly before 4 a.m., said Sgt. John Born, a spokesman for the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Sherrill's death halts a nationwide alert for a man whose long history of pedophilia had caused fear throughout the states he reportedly traveled looking for victims -- including Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas and even as far north as New York.
A state patrolman in Ohio's Medina County caught on to him yesterday after he noticed that a car parked at a rest area of Interstate 71 had a license plate that wasn't registered to the vehicle, Sergeant Born said.
When the patrolman approached the car and asked for identification, the driver stepped on the accelerator and fled south on the interstate, Sergeant Born said.
"The trooper pursued but the car crossed the median and went into the other lane, so it was driving northbound in the southbound lane," Sergeant Born said. "He went for about a mile and a half, then smashed into an oncoming . . . tractor-trailer."
Sherrill's body was partially burned in the crash. The driver of the truck had only minor injuries.
The car Sherrill drove had been reported stolen July 3 from Shelby County, Tenn., police said. A checkbook bearing Sherrill's name was found in the car, police said.
Photographs were taken of the dead man's fingerprints at a local morgue and were faxed to Maryland, where a positive identification was made by a Howard County police crime lab technician using a Maryland Automated Fingerprint Identification System computer.
Sherrill had served nearly 21 years of a 30-year Maryland prison sentence for kidnapping three children in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties in 1969. At least two of those children were sexually assaulted.
In May 1970, Sherrill was charged by the FBI with kidnapping a 5-year-old girl from Chattanooga, Tenn. After his arrest, he claimed to have kidnapped 20 people and killed three teen-agers, one in Maryland, another in Tennessee and one in Texas. Records are unavailable about the dispositions of the Tennessee case and the supposed killings.
Sherrill earned mandatory release in Maryland on July 3, 1991, after being awarded time off his sentence for good behavior and other factors, corrections officials said.
Initially it appeared that he was integrating back into society with few problems, but in recent weeks, "something happened; he exploded and lost control of his emotions," Maryland corrections spokesman Leonard A. Sipes Jr. said in a recent interview about the fugitive.
Mr. Sipes and other law-enforcement officials had stressed that Sherrill's soft-spoken and easygoing personality was probably useful in his approach to young children, whom he had a history of abducting from retail shopping areas and suburban neighborhoods.
After fleeing Maryland, where he listed addresses in southwest Baltimore and in Ellicott City, police said, Sherrill surfaced June 25 in Columbus, Ohio.
Six-year-old Nicole Driver was playing near her Columbus home when she was abducted by a man who lured her into his car with an offer of candy. A federal affidavit said that Sherrill is believed to have driven the girl to Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia before releasing her back in Ohio three days later.
On June 29, a 5-year-old girl was abducted from the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg and was released eight hours later. The FBI said there were similarities to the Ohio abduction and said Sherrill was wanted for questioning.
Little is known about Sherrill's life before prison. He told investigators after his arrest in 1970, when he was living in Dickerson in Montgomery County, that he was a professor and a part-time construction worker.
"We didn't have a lot to go by in identifying him," said R. C. Bartley, the Howard County police crime lab supervisor who matched Sherrill's fingerprints to arrest records. "What was key was that he had a very distinct set of prints -- the loops, arches and whirls on his fingers were as unusual as any I'd ever seen."