A foot chase took deputies into the woods. But what played out under the boughs wasn’t an arrest — it was compassion.
Drawn June 29 to the Sunset Motel on Oberlin-Elyria Road, just outside the Oberlin city limits, Lorain County sheriff’s deputies were searching for a suspect named George Click, wanted on a felony warrant.
They spotted a figure slipping into the forest near Parson Road and, believing it was Click, gave chase.
After searching 45 minutes, deputies Gary Howell, John Searle, and Jason Zsebik found Jerry Eberhart, a homeless man who said he was staying at the hotel until he ran out of money.
His only choice was to stay in the woods.
Eberhart had been there four days, eating nothing but some crackers.
None of the deputies reached for their handcuffs. Instead, Howell reached for his sandwich, giving Eberhart his own lunch.
“It was just the right thing to do. I’ve been that guy before, down on my luck,” Howell said. “Everybody falls on hard times, some harder than others… I’ve been hungry before and obviously had more than just crackers.”
The deputy, who hails from the Vermilion area, is a father of four. He said he tries to raise his four young children on the same lessons he received from his parents, Gary Sr. and Gwen Howell.
Zsebik gave Eberhart water and a bowl of fruit, and Howell pushed $20 from his pocket into the man’s hand.
“I was just trying to float him through until payday so he could get something to eat,” Howell said, surprised by the attention garnered by his actions, including our phone call. “At the end of the day, guys who wear a badge and uniform, we’re no different than the people we stop. We’re all human.”
The act of selflessness was brought to our attention by a letter from Howell’s supervisor, Sgt. Charles Motylewski, to Capt. Rick Thomas. It praises Howell for going above and beyond the call of duty — and it says this wasn’t the first time in the deputy’s nearly two years with the LCSO.
Motylewski wrote that he wanted Thomas to know “Howell is the type of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. It’s not often you hear the good things that officers do in this line of work, and we only hear what they have done wrong.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.