AMHERST TOWNSHIP: Hostage situation unfolds after brush fire

Three firefighters were held at gunpoint Wednesday night after responding to a blaze in the woods near Hornyak Court in Amherst Township.

Roy Griffith Jr., 53, is accused of holding South Amherst responders hostage for hours at the barrel of a .308-caliber assault rifle.

A crew of nine firefighters was dispatched at 6:37 p.m. and discovered Griffith had been burning brush. Flames spread on the wind to nearby trees.

When firefighters tried to talk to Griffith about the situation, “The guy became a little agitated,” said fire chief Al Schmitz. “He disappeared and came back with a gun. He pointed the gun at them.”

Griffith brandished a long rifle at the rescue workers and yelled at them to get on the ground, according to a Lorain County Sheriff’s Office report.

While some escaped and hid in a small patch of woods, firefighters Dennis Hevener, John Wright, and Greg Burgess were taken hostage.

Schmitz said Griffith kept apologizing to the hostages and repeated that he didn’t want to hurt anyone.

Deputies set up a perimeter around the residence, where they could easily see the situation unfold.

That’s when Griffith released Burgess, sending him as a messenger to tell authorities “to bring him some beer or he was going to start shooting people,” said the report.

Burgess told deputies he’d convinced Griffith to give up his gun if he returned with a six-pack.

The gunman has a long history of mental illness and had not taken his medication in two or three days, according to a statement by his mother. She told deputies he had been drinking every day.

The Ohio Turnpike was shut down between mileposts 135 and 140 while the county SWAT team was called in to demand Griffith’s surrender.

Griffith gave himself up. While no shots were fired and there were no injuries, investigators found his rifle had a round in the chamber with the bolt pulled back.

Schmitz said his firefighters were debriefed with doctors to talk about the situation and make sure everyone was safe.

Griffith faces felony counts of kidnapping and felonious assault and misdemeanor counts of having weapons while intoxicated and inducing panic.

He entered a not guilty plea in an arraignment early Thursday and is being held on $500,000 bond at the Lorain County Jail pending a preliminary hearing at 3:15 p.m. Friday in Oberlin Municipal Court.

Even should he be released, he would be under house arrest and barred from drinking alcohol, subject to urine testing, must take a mental health evaluation, and wear an electronic monitor.

He is also required to turn over all firearms and other weapons he owns or possesses.

Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-988-2801 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.

Roy Griffith Jr. Griffith Jr.
Three South Amherst firefighters safe after being held at gunpoint on Hornyak Court

By Valerie Urbanik