By KIRK SWAUGER
SOMERSET — A state police sharpshooter was justified in killing a Berlin man in an exchange of gunfire during a New Year’s Day standoff, Somerset County District Attorney Jerry Spangler ruled Monday.
Spangler said Trooper Ronald Salandro, a member of the state police Special Emergency Response Team, was allowed to use deadly force against William Lee Leister to prevent death or serious injury to officers and neighbors.
“The events that occurred were tragic,” Spangler said. “But a greater tragedy was averted because of the actions of the officer in question.
“The officer had a duty to defend the other officers that were involved in this incident and he performed the duty properly.”
Coroner Wallace Miller said he will rule Leister’s death justifiable homicide and will not convene an inquest.
Leister, 38, an off-duty guard at the State Correctional Institution-Laurel Highlands in Somerset Township, was killed after firing 19 shots at SERT troopers from an assault rifle during a 12-hour standoff at his Berlin home.
The standoff began New Year’s Eve after Leister forced a car off a road near Confluence, shot at its occupants, critically wounded a good Samaritan, and abducted the car’s female driver.
Passer-by Larry Glover, 46, of Confluence was treated at Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown after being shot three times while trying to intercede.
The kidnap victim, Ashley Bittinger, 21, of Confluence, said Leister had bailed her out of jail a day earlier on a domestic-violence charge involving her brother.
Leister, Bittinger said, was upset she was not consenting to his romantic advances.
Bittinger walked out of the home on her own before the standoff began.
State police have said Leister was frustrated by Bittinger’s rejection, the breakup with his longtime girlfriend late last year, and the prospect of losing his job and going to jail for the shooting rampage.
Both shots fired by Salandro – the only two fired by state police – hit Leister as he fired at police from a second-floor bathroom.
Salandro was positioned near a grove of pine trees, 61 yards from the suspect.
Salandro, based at the Kiski Valley barracks in suburban Pittsburgh, will return to duty soon after spending the past month on administrative assignment, state police Maj. Frank Monaco said.
“He will be returning to regular duties,” Monaco said at a press conference in the county Office Annex.
Spangler said he reached his decision after reviewing a 3-inch-thick investigation conducted by the state police. The probe included interviews with witnesses in both the original shooting and standoff, as well as Salandro.
Spangler said no criminal charges will be filed against Salandro, and termed the shooting “legally justified.”
State police said they turned the case over to Spangler for a ruling to avoid conflict of interest.
“We would not make the decision on our own,” Monaco said.
“We bring in an independent agency to make the determination.”
Kirk Swauger can be reached at 445-5103 or email@example.com.