The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 30, 2006

Berlin killing justified, DA rules

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.

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