HARRISBURG, Pa. – A retired Pennsylvania trooper who fatally shot two turnpike employees at a toll plaza, then was killed trying to unload money from a toll collection vehicle, had filed for bankruptcy last year after running up huge credit card debt, bankruptcy records show.
Clarence Briggs, 54, killed toll collector Danny Crouse and Ronald Heist, a former police officer working as security, at a rural toll plaza about 60 miles west of Harrisburg, police said.
Police said Briggs was shot in an exchange of gunfire with a state trooper after driving the toll-collection vehicle to a spot nearby where his own car was parked.
Court records show Briggs and his wife, Donna, had debts of $315,000, a good chunk of it owed to credit card companies, when they sought bankruptcy protection in March 2015. Their bankruptcy lawyer, Chad Julius, said the couple's repayment plan had been approved and they were making the required installments.
"I didn't know him well, but I did meet with him several times," Julius said. "The man that I met with was certainly not capable of the crimes that were committed. I'm in shock."
Briggs had been accused of domestic violence in 2014. Court records show that charges of simple assault and harassment were dismissed, however, four months after they were filed.
Court records show the victim in the case was Donna Briggs, who told investigators that Briggs had broken down the locked door of a bedroom in their home as she hid during an argument, then caused an injury by hitting her in the head.
His defense lawyer, Corky Goldstein, said the matter was settled before a district justice.
"My records indicate that he never had any criminal problems before that domestic dispute. I have not seen or heard anything about him until the horrible events of yesterday," Goldstein said.
Briggs joined the state police in 1988 and spent his entire career working out of the Newville station, which patrols the turnpike. State pension records indicate he withdrew $112,000 upon retirement in 2012 and was collecting a $5,200-a-month pension.
His bankruptcy filing said he had been working as a range master at a suburban Harrisburg facility for a weapons manufacturer. The company, IWI US Inc., said it planned to issue a statement.
Briggs lived about 36 miles east of the Fort Littleton interchange where the shootings occurred.
Police say the confrontation began just before 7 a.m. Sunday when Briggs drew a gun and ordered two turnpike employees from the toll booth area to go into the turnpike building, He was trying to tie them both up when a struggle began, police said, and Briggs ran outside, followed by the two.
It was about that time that Heist, working for a detective agency, arrived at the interchange in the fare collection vehicle. The person answering the phone at the agency declined comment Monday.
Police said Briggs shot and killed Crouse and Heist, then fired several shots at the collection vehicle, causing the driver to flee on foot.
They said Briggs then commandeered the fare collection vehicle and was trying to move money from it to his car, parked a short distance away, when the first trooper responding to a call for help found him and shot him dead.
Crouse, 55, had been on the job less than three months. He died of a gunshot wound to his upper torso, authorities said. Autopsies on Heist, who was 71, and the retired trooper were not to be completed until late Monday.
"We're very confident in stating that Mr. Briggs was acting alone, from the evidence that was obtained from the scene," Fulton County Coroner Berley Souders said.
State police said Sunday it was possible Briggs had been waiting for the fare collection vehicle to show up at the toll plaza.