SOLON: - After Matthew Ryan Desha emptied his AR-15 rifle on random motorists in Solon, police say he offered a curious defense.
“They killed my father,” he shouted.
Desha, 29, then recounted his mental health history to officers. Post-traumatic stress, drug abuse.
Friends say he often stopped taking his medication. He also often stopped seeking counseling.
No one had killed his father.
Desha, however, is accused of killing Deborah Pearl, whose car he crashed into on Solon Road after speeding through a red light Aug. 27.
Immediately after the crash, reports show Desha began firing his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. He fired at Pearl’s car before she was able to get out, reports show.
He also shot toward four different drivers, all of whom had stopped at the crash.
Reports show two men managed to subdue Desha until officers arrived. Desha, dressed in a USMC T-shirt, had used every bullet he had.
Another man recorded the images on his cell phone. The video, which shows Desha firing his weapon, was turned over to police.
Desha, a Marine veteran, served two tours in Iraq.
“His problem is mental,” said Jim Hordinski, commander of the VFW post in North Ridgeville where Desha frequently visited after leaving the Marines in 2008 after four years of duty.
“He’s got some PTSD left over from Iraq…He spent two tours in Iraq. And that’s tough. Tough on anybody. Two tours in any combat zone is tough.”
Desha received some counseling at the VA, his friends say. And he was given medication to help control his bi-polar tendencies.
Still, he had struggles.
“Matt had a temper, no doubt about it,” Hordinsky said. “A part of it was because of his PTSD.
That PTSD did not stop Desha from legally carrying a firearm. While mental illness can prevent a gun being issued, Ohio law requires a judge to decide if a person is mental fit.
William Denihan, COO of Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, said research shows the mentally ill make up a small percentage of those committing crimes. He said it’s our gun laws – specifically access to firearms - that need better attention.
“We do need to do more instead of just talking about it,” he said. “It has to be clear and it has to be immediate and it has to be effective.”
Until the shooting, Desha’s run-ins with law enforcement never rose to the level of him being ruled incompetent.
At the time of his arrest, he was free on bond in Mahoning County after he was stopped for making an illegal turn. Police found a gun and suspected drug residue inside his Jeep.
Five years earlier, police tried to seize a weapon from Desha, but a magistrate in North Ridgeville mayor’s court ordered the department to return the pistol. At that time, police were aware of Desha’s PTSD and drug and alcohol abuse.
That case unfolded in July 2011, when Desha was arrested for causing a disturbance and being intoxicated while waving a 9mm pistol. A neighbor agreed to let Desha aim the loaded gun at her while she took photos.
Desha himself wrote and filed court motions arguing that the gun, by Ohio law, should be returned. The magistrate agreed.
North Ridgeville police released nearly 30 pages of incidents involving Desha. Some noted his behavior, including a road rage incident. In another report, family members told police they “have a plan to take care of [Desha’s] problem.”
State troopers this summer cited Desha for doing 105 mph in a 60 mph zone of Interstate 71. He paid his $226 fine about four weeks before the shooting in Solon.
Friends are still unsure why Desha was in Solon that early morning, more than 30 miles away from his trailer park home in North Ridgeville.
Police are unsure why Desha blew through the red light at Solon and Richmond roads. Deborah Pearl, 53, of Twinsburg was on her way to work.
Desha was stopped at the red light, but went around cars and entered the intersection where his Jeep was struck by two vehicles. His Jeep rolled over and Desha suffered scraps and road burns. Witnesses say he exited his vehicle with his rifle in hand and fired at least twice at Pearl’s car.
Desha continued to march toward Pearl’s car, firing inside her car as the woman tried to crawl out of the passenger window. Witnesses say he continued shooting as she lay on the ground. He then fired more rounds at other motorists in the area, nearly striking four men.
The firing only stopped when Desha was out of bullets, police said. As Desha lowered his weapon, one motorist forced Desha to the pavement. The man used his foot to hold Desha down, the other foot was on the rifle, reports show.
Desha, who is single and was recently unemployed, has pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated murder and four counts of felonious assault and attempted murder. His attorney has not commented. Desha’s family also declined comment.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg is one of several judges working in the court’s recovery docket, which specialized in helping defendants with mental health or addiction issues. She said the docket is designed to reduce repeat offenders.
Desha was not one of those defendants. She has, however, seen defendants like Desha, who struggle with mental and addiction issues.
“It was a perfect storm what happened that day with this tragic result and all of us wish something could have been done sooner,” she said.
Pearl’s family want answers. They don’t understand, they said, how a man with clear mental health issues was given access to weapons.
“The system failed both of them,” said Derryo Pearl, the victim’s son. “The system failed this gentleman. And my mother should still be here.”