Sheriff commends motorist for stopping I-5 threat
The killer of an Ashland restaurant cook was a California man who'd run out of gas, but it may never be known what prompted the murder or the ensuing episode in which he fired a rifle at freeway traffic before an Eagle Point man ran him over.
The Jackson County Sheriff's Office identified Neal Brian Norman, 50, of Pacific Grove, California, as the shooter involved in the seemingly random homicide at Callahan's lodge and the chaotic incident that closed southbound Interstate 5 for hours near the California border.
Norman died on the freeway at the Oregon border, after motorist Thomas Bradley Moxon, 49, of Eagle Point ran him over in a quick-thinking reaction that Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler called "very heroic."
“We’re thankful for that individual and his ability to act under pressure,” Sickler said Sunday evening. “I think he prevented other tragedy.”
The seemingly random acts of violence started when Norman ran out of gas, according to Sheriff's Sgt. Julie Denney.
Norman arrived at the lodge in his white 1999 Honda Accord, which had an empty fuel tank, Denney said. Norman first came into the lobby to use the phone, went back to his car for a rifle then went to the kitchen and fatally shot cook Ryan Paul Bagley, 40, of Ashland.
Norman left the lodge in Bagley's maroon 1993 Subaru Legacy wagon, drove about five miles from the lodge to Milepost 1 of southbound Interstate 5, positioned the car in the middle of the roadway facing oncoming traffic and got out of the vehicle with the rifle, according to Denney. He then apparently waited for traffic to approach.
Moxon fatally struck Norman with his gray 2015 Ram Crew Cab pickup, after Norman fired multiple times at the truck using a rifle. Norman's gunshots hit the vehicle at least three times, according to Denney. From the crime scene Saturday, the vehicle visibly leaked engine fluids and the driver-side front tire was shot.
Moxon and his juvenile son were the first ones to encounter Norman on the freeway. They called 911 at 6:54 a.m., according to Denney, as did other motorists.
Moxon interfered to keep his son safe, according to Sickler. Though that type of interference can be traumatic, he commended Moxon for taking action.
“Those things can have an impact on one,” Sickler said. “We’re very thankful for that individual and his ability to do what he did.”
Sickler said the case is "completely random" and "just awful." Local police had never dealt with Norman before
Monterey County, California, criminal courts showed Norman had a very limited criminal history. Pacific Grove police issued a Norman a criminal citation only once, on Sept. 15, 1989. Details as to Norman's charges in that 1989 arrest were not immediately available Sunday. Norman has no criminal history in Oregon, Circuit Court records show.
“We don’t know exactly what he was thinking, obviously,” Denney said of Norman's final moments. Norman's family members told investigators that he had undiagnosed mental health problems, but his family was surprised at what Norman had done.
There's no sign that Norman knew Bagley or Moxon in any way. Denney described the crime as "definitely uncommon."
“Usually when we have a homicide, the suspect and the victim are known to each other,” Denney said.
The aftermath sparked simultaneous crime scenes Saturday, but because the two scenes were related the case didn't tax the the Jackson County Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit, consisting of the sheriff's office, Oregon State Police, Ashland police, Central Point police, the Medical Examiner's office and the District Attorney's office, Denney said.
“That part isn’t unusual, but this entire case is unusual for us,” Denney said.
More people investigated the case early, Denney said, in part because one of the incidents involved the freeway. The sheriff's office and MADIU first focused on the Callahan's lodge homicide, while resources from Oregon State police and the multi-agency Serious/Fatal Traffic Accident Reconstruction team focused on the I-5 crime scene.
Reaching next-of-kin was a challenge Saturday for investigators, Denney said, particularly in the search for Norman's family because he was from out of the area.
The Oregon Department of Transportation closed one lane on Interstate 5 shortly after 7 a.m. and both lanes were closed shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday. The traffic lanes didn't reopen until just after 3 p.m.
The new FARO crime scene imaging system reduced the time that the freeway needed to be closed Saturday, Denney said. The scanner creates a 3-D view of the scene, complete with images and measurements and is more effective than taking photos, video and measurements separately.
Investigators are still working to piece together what motivated Norman's actions, and ask anyone who may have had contact with him leading up to the shooting to contact detectives at 541-774-6800 and reference case number 17-20750.
Sickler said investigators are trying to gather as many answers as they can.
“Obviously, we’re not looking for a suspect,” Sickler said. “Nonetheless we want to make sure we do a thorough investigation as to what prompted this kind of action.”
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.