Rockne Newell cites troubles with township as motive for shootings
Man had been feuding over land issues for more than 20 years
Rockne Warren Newell was no stranger to officials in Ross Twp., Monroe Co., or nearby Hamilton Township, where he had spent more than a decade feuding with authorities over complaints they had about the way he maintained, or rather failed to maintain, his properties.
The property, some would say, looked like an overstuffed junkyard, the other his residence that, police said, was more shack than house with a sewage problem.
On Monday night, Newell drove to the Ross Township municipal building, where about a dozen had gathered for a township meeting, which was underway.
It was the spot state police alleged that Newell wanted to settle his beef with the supervisors and John Dunn, the township solicitor who filed the court papers that eventually led to the loss and sale of his property in Ross Township.
Dunn was the same attorney he had battled years earlier in disputes over his junkyard in Hamilton Township, where Dunn was township solicitor. Close associates of Dunn, who is a partner in the Stroudsburg law firm Matergia & Dunn, said Dunn had received a number of threats over the years from Newell.
After fatally shooting three people and wounding three others, Newell commented, “I wish I killed more of them,” according to court documents charging him with homicide, attempted homicide and aggravated assault.
Newell said his goal was to shoot Dunn and the supervisors. He said he expected to die in the process.
His plan was disrupted by two men, described as heroes by state police, who wrestled him to the floor while he was firing a handgun and yelling, “You took my property.”
Another apparent hero, David Fleetwood, the township’s zoning officer, died after he pushed two or possibly three women into a corner behind a table out of the line of fire and was then fatally shot himself, said a detective who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One of the first things the women told investigators was "that man [Fleetwood] saved our lives," the detective said. Besides being the zoning officer in Ross Township, Fleetwood was a supervisor in Chestnuthill Township. His son, Chris, is an emergency dispatcher at the county’s 911 center.
Inside the municipal building, investigators saw tables and chairs upturned, holes in the walls and a blood trail out the door, leading to the spot where the body of James V. LaGuardia, 64, of Ross Township, was found.
Another Ross Township man, Gerard J. Kozic, 53, was found dead on the floor inside the building. His wife, Linda, was shot in the leg but survived.
LaGuardia and Kozic had gone to the supervisor’s meeting so they could obtain township approval for an outdoor furnace device, said Monroe County Coroner Robert Allen. Autopsies were scheduled Tuesday, Allen said.
When police arrived on the scene, Newell was lying face down with a leg wound from a shot from his own handgun in the meeting room in front of Bernard Kozen, a former newspaper circulation manager and head of the township’s park commission.
Kozen and another man, Mark Kresh, wrestled Newell to the floor while Newell continued to fire his handgun, a .44 Magnum, police said. Newell fired 28 rounds from a rifle, then went to his car, where police later found 90 rounds of ammunition, to retrieve his handgun and return to the building for another round of mayhem.
Kozen saw Newell returning to the building after shooting it up with a rifle, then positioned himself by a door and pounced when Newell walked in firing, police said. One of Newell’s shots struck him in the lower leg.
State police found records dating back nine years concerning Newell’s disputes with the township.
"It’s been going on for more years than that," Newell allegedly told the police.
On Tuesday, state police used 3D mapping equipment to document evidence and bullet holes in the meeting room.
At the Monroe County Courthouse, clerks and other court personnel said Newell's legal wrangling with officials over his properties had been going on for 17 years, maybe longer.
The investigation into the shootings is ongoing, police said, and searches, using dogs and robots to check for booby traps, were conducted at a property where Newell had been staying, including one in Hamilton Township.
That wasn’t the only beef Newell had with authorities, said Guy Miller, director of emergency services for Monroe County.
In the wake of Hurricane Irene in 2011, Miller said he received "numerous calls" from Newell, who said his property had suffered water damage and he wanted to make a claim to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
When he was told the request had to be filed through the township, Newell made it clear to Miller he did not get along with the Ross Township officials.
“They are out to get me,” Miller said Newell told him.
“He never had anything nice to say about government in general,” Miller said.
State police said they were aware of only one run-in Newell had with the law and that was in 1981. He was charged with carrying a firearm without a license, driving without a license, fraudulent removal of a license plate, speeding, fleeing police and driving without lights to avoid identification.
In a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and the other charges were dropped. He was sentenced to four to eight months in the Monroe County Prison.
Newell, who had been living on disability, was arraigned on homicide, attempted homicide and aggravated assault was sent to Monroe County Prison without bail.
His preliminary hearing date had not been scheduled.
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