In the wee hours of the morning, Lawrence Martin retaliated. He unloaded 15 rounds from a high-power rifle into the Verizon Wireless storefront in the Waynesville Super Walmart shopping plaza, according to police reports.
As cops closed in on the Verizon store, Martin sped away, leading police on a high-speed chase through town. Martin barreled down South Main Street, reaching speeds upwards of 80 miles per hour, before finally crashing into a tree on the lawn of the Haywood County Justice Center.
Police had been warned earlier that night that Martin intended to shoot up the Waynesville Police Station, and maybe the sites of communication facilities.
He had confided his intentions to go on a shooting spree to his out-of-state son over the phone, and to a roommate.
Both had independently called law enforcement to warn them.
“He had made threats on the phone to a family member and to a house guest saying he was coming to the Waynesville Police Department to shoot it up and then keep on shooting people until officers shot him to stop him,” said Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed.
Martin, 65, believed the outage of Verizon Wireless and Charter Cable earlier that evening was rooted in a far-reaching conspiracy by corporations and the government to control society.
“He was mad that his cable and cell phone had gone out. He felt like there was some kind of conspiracy between the government and these businesses,” Hollingsed said.
The night of the rampage, Martin was drinking heavily, based on his blood alcohol readings, and was firing off his gun inside his house along an isolated dead-end road in the Balsam area, based on a subsequent search of his home.
“Several rounds were fired in his own house through the windows from the inside out,” Hollingsed said.
Martin is not from Haywood County originally. He has lived in Texas and Georgia.
The shooting rampage and high-speed chase in the center of Waynesville was rife with close calls.
Luckily, the Verizon store was empty at 4:45 a.m. and the sidewalks around it were deserted, so no one was injured there.
Although Martin pointed his gun at officers, he had just unloaded his entire clip into the store front, and so when officers arrived, his gun was empty, according to the police investigation of the scene.
He had plenty of spare clips in the vehicle, though, and Hollingsed said officers could see him fiddling with his rifle as he pointed it at them from afar, but he peeled away before reloading. The clip in the rifle was still empty at the time of his wreck.
Given the hour, the roads and sidewalks through town were mostly empty, although Martin veered over the yellow line several times and twice almost hit an oncoming car head-on.
Hollingsed said despite inherent hazards of a high-speed chase in populated areas, the danger of Martin being at large in the community posed an even greater risk.
“We knew he was a danger to the community,” Hollingsed said, citing his excessive speed for one. “He obviously showed a high propensity for violence both in his actions and the threats he made over the phone to a family member and a friend.”
Even when Martin wrecked, officers managed to avoid a potential standoff by moving in quick to snatch him from the vehicle.
“He was dazed and officers were able to pull him from the vehicle before he could access the weapon, even though he was laying over his rifle,” Hollingsed said.
It was a potentially deadly scenario for officers trying to catch Martin, since Martin had previously confided his plan to shoot up the police station. Thus, they were heading into the line of fire, literally. But Hollingsed said his officers weren’t scared.
“The adrenaline kicks in and your training kicks in. They told their supervisors that they had a plan in their mind of what they would do all the way along the way,” Hollingsed said. “You are trying to make a plan for the different scenarios as the situation progresses.”
Several days after the shooting, large plywood sheets still covered three of Verizon’s bay windows. A sprinkling of glass shards was still visible on the sidewalk in front of the store. Even the carpet inside still sported tiny glass chunks along the edge of the wall.
But customers poured in and out to buy phones, switch their plans and pay bills, and sales people tried to carry on with business as usual. Although with plywood over the windows — and an armed private security guard posted by the entrance — the act-normal charade fell flat at times.
Martin was arrested on a bevy of charges, but since no one was injured, many of the charges are mere misdemeanors. Cops charged him with every law in the book at their disposal — even throwing in a DWI for good measure after his blood alcohol measured 0.19, more than twice the legal limit. But since the Verizon Store was empty, the shooting went down on the books as vandalism and property damage, more misdemeanors. Even the charge of “going armed to the terror of the people” is a misdemeanor.
Because some of the bullets hit computers inside the store, however, officers could tack on the unusual felony charge of damaging computer systems. But the only other felony that applied was fleeing to elude arrest.
Martin was taken to the hospital after the wreck, where he remained for three days. He was under police watch while at the hospital and was promptly arrested when discharged and taken to jail.
His bail for all the charges was initially set at only $41,000, in keeping with the bail standards for the various crimes. But law enforcement feared Martin would be able to make bail and get out.
“The bond wasn’t near high enough for the propensity for violence this individual had shown,” Hollingsed said. “We worked very closely with the district attorney’s office trying to make sure that he wasn’t released back into the community.”
Judge Monica Leslie on Monday upped the bond to $1 million, and Hollingsed said the community, police officers and Verizon employees can rest easier knowing he won’t get out anytime soon.
Play-by-play of Verizon shooting rampage
The following timeline of the shoot-out was compiled from Waynesville police reports and accounts. All charges and claims against Martin are only allegations at this point, and he is considered innocent pending a trial.
Thursday, May 8
4:45 p.m.-9 p.m. A simultaneous Verizon Wireless and Charter Cable outage involving severed lines and fiber cables cuts off communication for thousands of customers in the Waynesville area.
Friday, May 9
12:38 a.m. Law enforcement fields a concerned call from the out-of-state son of Lawrence Martin, a 65-year-old resident in Balsam. Martin had told his son over the phone that he was going to shoot up the Waynesville Police Station, and possibly target communication centers. His son calls to relay this warning as a precaution.
12:51 a.m. Police go on high alert and put the police station on lockdown, securing all entrances and closing it to the public.
2:14 a.m. Law enforcement fields a concerned call from a house guest/roommate staying at Martin’s house. Martin is drinking and firing off his gun inside his house. The house guest, speaking either from outside or a back room, warns police that Martin has been talking about shooting up the Waynesville Police Station.
4:39 a.m. Martin begins shooting up the Verizon Wireless storefront on South Main in Waynesville. He fires the shots at close range while sitting in his silver Toyota Tacoma in the store’s parking lot.
4:40 a.m. A customer at the all-night Huddle House across the street hears the shots, steps outside and sees the shooting in progress. He calls 911. Moments later, a glass-break alert from Verizon’s alarm company comes in to the Waynesville police station. Every on-duty law enforcement officer in the vicinity is dispatched to Verizon.
4:41 a.m. Martin continues shooting through the store windows, unloading a total of 15 rounds from his SKS rifle, a Soviet-era semi-automatic carbine. Bullets pierce the windows and shoot up the interior, including computers inside the store, and some lodge in the far wall on the opposite side of the room.
4:42 a.m. Two Waynesville officers close in on the Verizon store — one cuts through the Walmart parking lot and the other approaches down South Main Street. A sheriff’s deputy converges at the same time. Martin points his rifle at the approaching officers as he peels out of the parking lot, wheels through two intersections and heads down South Main Street toward town.
4:43 a.m. Waynesville Sgt. Keith Moore is barreling down South Main toward Verizon as Martin speeds past him in the other direction. Moore hangs a sharp U-turn, pulls in behind Martin and flips on his blue lights and siren.
4:44 a.m. Martin careens down South Main, reaching a speed of more than 80 miles per hour along the two-lane road as it passes through a residential neighborhood section. Moore remains in hot pursuit.
4:44 a.m. As Martin nears downtown, concern grows that he may be headed for the police station to carry out threats conveyed earlier that evening. Martin warns dispatch at the police department to go into lockdown.
4:45 a.m. Martin steams through the downtown district of Main Street. He’s going so fast he wrecks in the curve in front of the justice center, slamming into a small tree and uprooting it. The airbag goes off, and he is thrown sideways over his rifle on the front seat.
4:46 a.m. Officers rush toward the vehicle and pull him out before he can get his hands on his rifle. Martin is taken to the hospital.