Suspect charged with murder in Ohio turnpike knife attack

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 5:42 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 20, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT
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SANDUSKY COUNTY, Ohio (WTVG) - A man with a knife killed one person and severely injured another at a turnpike plaza in eastern Sandusky County on Tuesday evening.

The Sandusky County Prosecutor’s Office has now charged Thomas Conner, 51, of Beloit, Wisconsin, with murder. Prosecutors said Conner will be held at the Sandusky County jail with no bond, awaiting further indictment and charges.

The call to authorities came in at 5:17 p.m. Tuesday from the Erie Islands Travel Plaza, which services westbound traffic for I-80.

“It appears, preliminary, that it was a very random act of violence,” Sandusky County Sheriff Chris Hilton said.

Officials with the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Conner stabbed two people in the parking lot.

David Diederich, 66, of La Porte, Indiana, died at the scene from his injuries.

The Sheriff said the other victim, Alan Austin, 53, of Delavan, Wisconsin, was sitting in his work van eating when Conner approached and stabbed him. Austin got out of the car and ran toward an EMT for medical assistance that was there by happenstance, authorities said.

He was airlifted to the hospital with life-threatening injuries and has since been released. Austin told police he did not know the suspect or what may have motivated the attack. The Sandusky County Sheriff, Chris Hilton, said the two coincidentally live about 25 minutes from one another in Wisconsin.

A Sandusky County Sheriff’s Deputy, now identified as Deputy Evan Ely, 39, arrived at the scene and made contact with the suspect. Conner allegedly refused to drop the knife. That’s when the deputy shot the suspect with a “pain compliance weapon,” the Sheriff said. He described it as a “less than lethal” weapon.

When that didn’t work, the suspect allegedly charged the officer. That’s when Ely shot Conner twice with his firearm. Conner is alive and was treated for his gunshot wounds.

Ely has worked in law enforcement for 15 years and is a member of the Sandusky County Special Response Team. He has been put on paid administrative leave.

Authorities said there is no known connection between the suspect and the victims at this time and are still working to determine if Conner was under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the attack.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol will investigate the assault on the two victims. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will investigate the shooting of the suspect by the deputy.

One person killed in Sandusky turnpike plaza knife attack, another injured

WATCH LIVE: Law enforcement officials give an update on the stabbing incident that took place at a turnpike plaza in Sandusky County.

Posted by 13abc on Tuesday, October 19, 2021

“I have never in my experience seen anything like that,” said Sandusky County Sheriff Chris Hilton. “The randomness is... terrifying.”

Conner currently faces unrelated charges in Wisconsin, court records show. Police arrested him in August on a trio of charges, including disorderly conduct, domestic abuse, and use of a dangerous weapon, according to records from Rock County, Wi. circuit court. He appeared by video for a court hearing one week before Tuesday night’s stabbing, according to court records. A judge released him on a signature bond. Conner previously served nearly a decade in prison for an armed robbery from the mid-90s and also served time on marijuana charges, records show.

The Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office has released video from the scene taken by a witness. An edited version of it that removes a curse word is posted below.

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