Sheriff recalls December shootout with suspect
Published 8:49 am Monday, March 14, 2016
“It was deathly quiet.”
Those were the words Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford used to describe the moments after the gunfire ceased but before he realized one of his officers and a civilian woman had been injured after a suspect allegedly opened fire on the officers on the night of Dec. 16 in Stoney Creek.
Lunceford took the witness stand Friday morning during a preliminary hearing for Kelly Lee Pitts, 36, of 433 Dry Hollow Road, Elizabethton. At the conclusion of Friday’s hearing, Judge Keith Bowers Jr., bound Pitts over the Grand Jury on seven counts of attempted first degree murder in connection with the December incident.
On Dec. 16 at around 9 p.m., officers of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to 433 Dry Hollow Road. “The gist of the call was there was an intoxicated male waving a pistol around in the roadway,” Lunceford said, adding he was on his way home and was in the area when the call came in. “I could see the road signage for Dry Hollow when the call went out.”
When Lunceford arrived in the area, he said saw a man he later identified as Michael Hyder standing in the roadway so he stopped there to speak with him. Lunceford said he saw a man and woman — later identified as Greg Hardin and Brandy Hyder — standing down the hill outside 433 Dry Hollow Road.
“The first time I saw (Pitts) he was standing in the doorway with a pistol,” Lunceford said. “He yelled something at the male and female in the driveway. There was some yelling going on but I couldn’t understand what was being said.”
Hardin and Brandy Hyder then walked up toward the road where Lunceford and Michael Hyder stood talking, the Sheriff said.
Lunceford said he had only been on scene for a few minutes before the other officers arrived. Deputy Jason Mosier arrived on scene and parked his police cruiser directly behind the sheriff’s vehicle and Sgt. David Caldwell pulled in behind Mosier’s cruiser. Deputy Jenna Markland was a passenger in Caldwell’s car.
Lunceford continued talking to Brandy Hyder as the other officers pulled up and began exiting their cruisers.
“Ms. Hyder was upset and crying and I told her that we weren’t going to harm him unless we had to,” Lunceford testified. “No sooner than I said that I heard the first shots.”
The officers took cover behind their vehicles, Lunceford said, adding some of the rounds struck the cruisers and some were ricochetting off the pavement under the cars.
“I heard about 25 to 30 rounds. There was as second or two break, then another 25 to 30 rounds,” Lunceford said. “Then there was another pause. It was deathly quiet.”
Lunceford said he stood up and fired a single shot from his shotgun at the home.
After the second round of shots, Lunceford said he heard a man yell that someone had been shot and he later learned Brandy Hyder had been struck in the hand by a bullet.
It was around this time that Lunceford said he also realized Markland had been struck in the head.
“It was dark and a little hard to see but I saw this dark stuff spreading on her face and I knew what it was,” Lunceford said. “When I saw Officer Markland was hurt I tried to get to her.”
The officers were able to get Markland into the back of Caldwell’s cruiser. Lunceford said he attempted to get to the driver’s seat from the passenger side so he could drive the car out and get Markland to safety but was not able to due to the equipment over the console in the vehicle.
Michael Hyder put his daughter Brandy Hyder into his truck and drove down from his house to the roadway, Lunceford said. Michael Hyder stopped next to the cruisers and the officers were able to get Markland into the truck and Michael Hyder then drove both injured women away from the scene to be picked up by the Carter County Rescue Squad.
Lunceford contacted 911 and requested the Carter County Sheriff’s Office Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Team to respond and asked for the Elizabethton Police Department’s SWAT Team to respond as well.
Special Agent Scott Lott with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also testified during Friday’s hearing and he described officers apprehension of Pitts, what investigators found in the home and also the statement Pitts gave during questioning about the incident.
After standoff that lasted for hours, members of the SWAT Teams entered the home between 2-2:30 a.m. and found that Pitts was no longer inside.
“They were led by an individuals to a cave where they thought Mr. Pitts may be,” Lott said, adding officers did in fact locate Pitts in the cave and he was armed with a rifle and two pistols, one of which was equipped with a scope.
After Pitts was in custody, Lott said he went inside the home to begin documenting evidence.
Inside the home, Lott said he found an SKS rifle and an AK47 assault rifle lying on a bed in the bedroom officers believe the shots were fired from.
“The forensic scientists recovered 52 7.62 shell casings from that bedroom,” Lott said. “The magazines that were recovered were 30-round magazines.
Lott said Pitts provided a statement to him during an interview conducted around 4 a.m. on Dec. 17 at the Sheriff’s Office. As part of his testimony on Friday, Lott read the statement in court. Pitts’ attorney Gregory Norris objected to the use of the statement but was overruled by Bowers.
Pitts told Lott he had consumed some beer on the evening of Dec. 16 at the home he shared with his girlfriend Brandy Hyder. During the evening, Pitts said he began to argue with Brandy Hyder’s brother Jack Hyder.
“I knew Jack had a gun and I told him I had a gun,” Lott read from Pitts’ statement, adding that Pitts denied pointing the gun at Jack Hyder.
Pitts told Lott that sometime later he saw cars pull up outside and recognized them as Dodge Chargers “like the police use” but said he thought they might also be friends of Jack Hyder’s.
“I had an AK47 and I shot into the crowd a few times,” Lott read from Pitts’ statement. “I didn’t soot at the cars.”
In his statement, Pitts said he fired between five and 10 rounds.
“I swear to God I wasn’t shooting at anybody or at the cars,” Lott read from Pitts’ statement. “I was just trying to scare the people outside.”
Following the testimony by Lunceford and Lott and then closing remarks for the hearing, Bowers ruled that the state had met the burden for the charges to bound over to the Grand Jury.
Pitts is scheduled to appear in Carter County Criminal Court on May 23.