The Columbus Dispatch

Policeman's wife killed

Thursday, May 17, 2001
NEWS   01C

By Bruce Cadwallader and Matthew Marx
Dispatch Staff Reporters

Illustration: Photo, MAP

A Columbus police officer's wife died yesterday when a gun she was trying to wrest from her husband discharged, the wife's family said.

Investigators said the officer had threatened suicide just before the incident, the family said.

Mary and Delray Rhoades, surrounded by family and friends last night in a relative's home in the Dayton suburb of Fairborn, were mourning their daughter, Jan Marie Wright, 37, who was killed outside the Wrights' apartment near the Scioto River in Perry Township.

Mrs. Wright, a Rural Metro Ambulance driver, died at 12:30 p.m. of a chest wound at Ohio State University Medical Center. Her husband, patrol Officer Richard Wright, 35, who had argued with his wife before the shooting, was cooperating in the investigation, authorities said.

Mary Rhoades said Mr. Wright called them yesterday evening to say that he was sorry and that the shooting was an accident, though he didn't elaborate.

"I don't blame anyone right now,'' Mrs. Rhoades, 69, said.

"He's torn up pretty bad,'' she said of Wright. "He thinks we all hate him. No, I don't hate him. We don't hate him.''

Wright was not under arrest yesterday, but he was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on restricted duty pending the outcome of an investigation by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office and the county coroner.

"We are waiting for lab and test results, and information will be presented to a grand jury,'' said Chief Deputy Steve Martin of the sheriff's office.

The shooting, at Riverpark Apartments just north of Lane Avenue, occurred about 11:30 a.m. Martin said there were several unanswered questions about the case and conflicting statements from witnesses.

However, Mrs. Rhoades said an investigator told the family that after the couple argued, Mr. Wright threatened suicide and walked outside with a gun. Mrs. Wright ran after him and was trying to take the gun away when it went off, Rhoades said.

Neighbors said the Wrights moved to Riverpark six months ago.

The couple, who married in August 1998, had met while both worked for an animal-control agency, Mrs. Rhoades said.

Mrs. Wright was a horse-riding enthusiast and trained horses at a stable in Hilliard, her mother said. The petite woman -- she was 4 feet 8 inches -- competed in riding contests and had once tried her hand at being a jockey, Rhoades said.

Mrs. Wright's love for horses was shared by Holly, her 14-year-old stepdaughter, Mrs. Rhoades said. Holly had recently won a ribbon for her horsemanship, she said.

The family was planning to come visit the Rhoades, who were in Fairborn visiting Mrs. Wright's grandmother.

The Rhoades are retirees and former Hilliard residents who now live in Leesburg, Fla.

"They seemed happy when they visited us in Florida 2 1/2 , three weeks ago,'' said Mr. Rhoades, Mrs. Wright's stepfather.

Since then, though, Mrs. Wright seemed unhappy during telephone conversations, her mother said, and it had something to do with the couple working different shifts.

Mr. Wright was assigned to a patrol district on the Far West Side working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Besides Rural Metro, Mrs. Wright worked part time at a pizza restaurant in Dublin, her mother said.

Mrs. Rhoades said she did not question her daughter further and knew of no serious problems in the couple's relationship.

It was unclear what the couple was arguing about yesterday.

A neighbor of the Wrights, Tammi Mattson, said Holly was hysterical when she came to her home yesterday morning.

"She ran to my door and said her dad shot her stepmom,'' Mattson said. "I've been with her for two hours, watching her for the police.''

The girl had witnessed the argument but was inside the apartment when the shooting occurred, Mattson said.

The girl is an eighth-grader in Upper Arlington schools.

Mattson said Mr. Wright paced back and forth on the sidewalk while paramedics worked to save his wife.

"He was just asking whether she'd be OK,'' Mattson said.

Another Riverpark resident, Tony Morris, said he came home for lunch seconds after the shooting and before paramedics arrived. He said Mr. Wright had blood on his face and held his hands on his head, as in disbelief.

The case has been referred to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, who plans to present it to a grand jury.

O'Brien said his office was contacted shortly after the shooting and helped detectives sort out the confusing details.

"The Sheriff's Office wants to conduct a complete and thorough investigation before any charges are filed,'' O'Brien said.

O'Brien said Mr. Wright, who was not taken into custody, was given no special treatment.

"He's cooperating fully with us,'' Martin said of Mr. Wright.

The lab tests include checking for gun powder residue on Mr. Wright, as well as ballistic tests on the weapon.

It was unclear whether Mrs. Wright was shot with her husband's service weapon or another gun.

Franklin County Coroner Dr. Brad Lewis said an autopsy would be performed today on Mrs. Wright.

The Rhoades said they want Mrs. Wright buried in the Fairborn area, where she grew up.

Detectives returned to the shooting scene yesterday afternoon to search the couple's apartment, carry out bags of evidence and take pictures.

At one point, detectives led Holly Wright from the apartment with a blanket over her head. The front door to the two-bedroom town house appeared to be off its hinges.

Columbus Deputy Chief Stephen P. Gammill said he knew of no disciplinary problems with Wright, who was hired on Dec. 12, 1999.

Dispatch Staff Reporter Dean Narciso contributed to this story.

(1) Tom Dodge / Dispatch
Law-enforcement officers escort Holly Wright, 14, from her home in Perry Township. Her stepmother, Jan Marie Wright, was killed outside the town house yesterday, police said. The girl's father, a Columbus police officer, has been placed on restricted duty pending the outcome of an investigation.
(2) Map
(3) The role Columbus Police Officer Richard Wright, left, played in the death of his wife, Jan Marie, will be considered by a grand jury, a prosecutor said.

All content herein is 2001 The Columbus Dispatch and may not be republished without permission.