OLIVESBURG TWP.: A stranger shuffled to the counter, laid his heavy trench coat atop a fugitive’s photograph and uncurled a fistful of coins.
Cashier Lydia Miller tried to look cool and smile as always, but inside she was shaking as the man slowly counted the change for a Snickers bar.
Greg Gallaway recognized the man, too. The 20-year-old clerk did his best to act natural, scooping ice cream while working the humid Fourth of July evening.
He just gave a reciprocal nod to customer Mark Cooper, who had stopped at the Olivesburg General Store with his wife and son for a cooling summer treat.
After a quick phone call, Cooper — all of 6 foot 4 and 320 pounds — nonchalantly eased his way to the stranger. In a flash, the burly demolition derby driver from Ashland lifted the fugitive off the ground and whisked him to the floor with a WWE-like body slam.
James David Myers, 47, of Randolph Township, the convicted rapist who escaped from the Mansfield Correctional Institution the night before, was tied up with a blue nylon cord and held for state troopers.
He didn’t put up a fight as he was carted back to prison to resume his life sentence.
Since 1840, locals of this rural town in northern Richland County have spent their many days sharing tales inside the venerable Olivesburg General Store, where they sell the infamous “Shawshank Sundae” and an assortment of foods, Amish goods and sundries.
On Friday, the crowd was no different, aside from the occasional news reporter. The story of Myers’ capture provided elements not often heard in little Olivesburg, population 813, if you believe Wikipedia.
“We don’t normally have this kind of excitement around here,” said Miller, 25, before starting another shift behind the counter. “People are just stopping in to see what happened. It’s been crazy. But everybody’s just grateful he’s behind bars again.”
Myers escaped Wednesday night from the Mansfield prison, located about 10 miles south of the general store. Authorities have yet to release details of his escape from the closed security prison.
His capture, however, is compelling.
Manhunt in Ohio
A former Randolph Township resident, Myers was sentenced to life in prison for breaking into the home of a Summit County woman and raping her. The woman was placed under police protection while a highly publicized manhunt ensued.
Like many who live near the prison, Cooper was aware of Myers’ escape as he returned home from a family cookout with his wife, Aimee, and son, Austin, 15.
Myers’ face was on TV as the family went inside from the rain. Cooper recalled his mother-in-law’s worry since they lived so close to the prison. He tried to put her at ease.
“I told her he’s probably long gone by now,” Cooper said Friday.
Shortly after 6, the Coopers headed for home. On the way, they made a quick stop at the general store for ice cream.
As the family wandered about the store, Cooper, 45, heard someone ask to use a phone and see a phone book, a strange request in these days of cellphones and smartphones. The stranger claimed his truck broke down and he needed a tow.
“How many people need to do that anymore?” Cooper said.
Almost instantly, he recognized the man as the inmate they had just seen on TV news.
“So, I walked around the back side of the little counter, and the younger kid that works behind there, I said just act like nothing is going on.”
Gallaway was the kid. He’s 20, and on Thursday as he scooped ice cream, he remembered how he couldn’t believe who he was seeing inside the store. It was the same man whose picture was placed on the counter as a wanted fugitive.
“I happened to glance back at the register and I’m, like, ‘Is that really him?’ I then walked around the store to see if anyone else is seeing what I’m seeing right now,” Gallaway said.
That’s when he eyed Cooper, who was standing by the pizza counter.
“He started nodding his head like ‘I think that’s the guy, too.’ It was good to know that I wasn’t the only one to see it was him.”
Quick call to 911
Cooper, who was wearing a red, white and blue shirt, then stepped outside to call 911.
“I just told them to hurry up and get there. They were wanting to chitchat. I’m like, ‘My wife and son are still in that store, I ain’t got time to reminisce.’ I said I got to get back in there.”
Miller was at the register. At first, she didn’t recognize the man. Then it sunk in.
Those in the store noticed the fistful of change Myers used to make his purchases as well as his trips back and forth to the counter; first for a phone, next for a cigarette lighter and finally for the candy bar.
Others noticed his dark trench coat that he seemed to purposely place on a mug shot that was posted near the cash register all day.
“We were all shaking,” Miller said.
Meanwhile, Cooper went back inside and walked past the stranger, just to reaffirm his suspicion, maybe size him up and see if he was armed. Myers was not armed, but Cooper didn’t know it.
Besides, he figured an inmate with a life sentence over his head had nothing to lose.
Confident with the match-up, Cooper went to his family and told them stay back. He then went in for the slam, just as he did when he wrestled as a schoolkid.
“I just went up and grabbed him, I didn’t want to give him a chance to get a gun, if he had one,” Cooper said.
“He just calmly walked up behind him and, SLAM!” Miller recalled with a smile.
Myers was whipped to the floor in a maneuver captured on store security cameras and later blasted across the Internet and news channels. The inmate said little as Cooper and another customer tied him up and held him until authorities arrived.
The inmate didn’t resist or talk much.
“I think he was more relieved than anything, to tell you the truth,” Cooper said. “I think he was tired of looking over his shoulder.”
Back behind bars
Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers returned Myers to the Mansfield prison. He is expected to be charged with escape. Many in Summit County, including the woman he raped and the defense attorneys he blamed for his conviction, were relieved with the news.
On Friday, Cooper was inside his garage, hard at work. He didn’t hide his displeasure with reporters who stopped by his home. He said he didn’t want the attention.
Clearly, he was more consumed with the welding work he was doing on a car frame.
“I just did what I felt was right. I didn’t want anybody else being in danger, or whatever. That’s it,” he said.