Link in tragedies sought
DANVILLE ? Authorities are still seeking clues in two tragic incidents ? one in Champaign County and one 30 miles away in Vermilion County ? and trying to determine whether they are linked.
"Naturally we're taking a look at that because of the fact there's family members involved," Danville police Lt. Doug Miller said of a possible connection between the suicide along Interstate 74 of 43-year-old Gary Myers of Danville on Monday and the deaths in Danville of his parents in an apparent double homicide that may have occurred on Saturday.
"No connection has been made at this time," Miller continued. "We're still working with the other agencies that are handling the other case to determine that."
Danville police are probing the brutal deaths of 74-year-old Donald W. Myers and 69-year-old Shirlee Myers.
"Both are victims of an apparent homicide," Danville police Detective Larry Thomason said of the couple, who lived at 406 Dennis Drive, a quiet street on the city's north side. "The initial assessment would indicate blunt force trauma."
Thomason said police were called to the Myers home at about 10 p.m. Monday by a family member, who had found the couple's bodies inside.
Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson said she believes they had been dead for a couple of days before they were found.
"I believe that Saturday was their date of death based on their condition and the evidence at the scene," she said. While autopsies were conducted Tuesday afternoon, she said the reports were not yet available.
On Monday evening, Johnson said, the Champaign County coroner's office asked one of her deputies to contact the Myerses about their son's death, which had occurred earlier in the evening. But when he knocked on their door, he didn't get a response.
"He then knocked on several neighbors' doors to see if they were out of town and if they had a number of another family member he could contact," Johnson recalled. "He relayed that to the Champaign County coroner's office, who called a family member who lives in Indiana. He became concerned and came here. When he let himself in with a key he had, he found them."
Earlier, Illinois State Police had responded to a deadly collision on Interstate 74, which, according to authorities, was caused by Gary Myers. Seth Meiller, 24, of Lutherville, Md., was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gary Myers was pronounced dead at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana. He had been airlifted there after slashing his throat at the scene of the accident, and died on arrival.
According to state police ? who are investigating that case along with the Champaign County coroner's office ? the incident started in the westbound lanes of I-74 just east of St. Joseph at 5:10 p.m. A pickup truck, driven by Gary Myers, and a Subaru station wagon, driven by Mr. Meiller, were heading west, when the Subaru began passing the truck.
The truck then swerved and hit the Subaru, causing Mr. Meiller to temporarily lose control. He regained control and was still in the passing lane when Myers hit the Subaru a second time.
Both vehicles went into the median, state police said. Then, Myers forced Mr. Meiller across the median into the eastbound lane, where it was hit by an eastbound semitrailer truck. The truck hit the Subaru in the driver's door, and Mr. Meiller died instantly from massive head injuries. Mr. Meiller's sister and passenger, Jessica, was also taken to the hospital, but has since been released.
The semi driver also lost control of his rig, crossed the median and came to rest blocking both westbound lanes of I-74, state police said. They said Myers got out of his truck and slashed his own neck with a knife.
Preliminary results of an autopsy on Myers, performed Tuesday in Bloomington, indicate he died of "sharp force injuries" to his neck, according to the Champaign County coroner's office.
Jenny Hibler, 18, of Vermilion County said she drove up on the accident shortly after it occurred, in time to see Myers jump out of his truck.
"I've never seen anything like it," recalled Hibler, who on Tuesday was still badly shaken by the experience. "He was holding a knife, and you could definitely tell it wasn't a pocket knife. He was on all fours, crawling around. He was screaming and making animal noises. He crawled into the weeds. When he came out, he didn't have a shirt on, and I saw a wound on his neck."
By coincidence, Jenny's mother, Mary Hibler, grew up with Gary Myers. The two and four others even spent a high school spring break vacation at Daytona Beach together.
"He was a nice guy back then," Hibler recalled, adding he was a year behind her in school. "He was very friendly and had an outgoing personality. When I was in 8th grade at North Ridge Junior High, he was voted most popular and prettiest eyes.
"His parents were the nicest people," Hibler continued, adding her brother used to date Gary Myers' sister. "Whenever I'd see his mom, she would make a point of coming up and speaking to me. She was just that type of person. It's just a shock that this happened."
On Tuesday, other friends and neighbors said they were still reeling from the tragedies and recalling Gary Myers as troubled.
"He was a troubled young man, even then," said Chuck Taylor, who worked with Don Myers at Teepak and had Gary Myers in a junior high Sunday school class. "He was in trouble time after time. The Myerses were great people. They couldn't do much of anything with him, though."
"We all knew that he was not a nice person," added Barbara Elliott, who lived next door to the Myerses for about 35 years, and watched him; his older sister, Donita; and younger brother, Kirk, grow up. She recalled Gary Myers getting involved in drugs around the time he was in high school and then turning to violence.
"He's gotten out of scrapes that he should not have gotten out of. (Don and Shirlee Myers) never talked about it," she said. "And with them not talking about it, you didn't feel like you could bring it up, but maybe we should have."
"All of us who were friends didn't discuss Gary because it was so hard on Don and Shirlee," added Leona Bartling, a friend of the couple. "They couldn't seem to talk about his problems. We knew he was involved with drugs as a teen-ager. But they loved their kids and wanted to do whatever they could to help him."
Bartling said she didn't even realize that Gary had been paroled from the Ohio prison system and had moved in with his parents until she called the Myerses and he answered the phone.
On Monday night, a deputy coroner came knocking on Elliott's door, asking her and her husband, Dick, if they'd seen the Myerses.
"Dick went over to the house with a flashlight, but he couldn't see anything," she said, adding her heart jumped into her throat. "We called Kirk, and he said, 'I'll be right over as soon as I put on my shoes.'
"As soon as they got here, they went over there," she continued, adding Kirk Myers found his parents in the living room. "Dick stopped when he heard Kirk start yelling, 'The (expletive deleted) killed them both.' He said, 'The (expletive deleted) has already killed twice. Why did he have to kill my folks?' He was in such shock. We just feel horrible for him."
Couple went out of their way to help others
DANVILLE ? Friends of Don and Shirlee Myers had trouble figuring out when the Myerses had time to sleep.
Don "helped everybody all the time," said Max Bartling, a former co-worker and friend.
Bartling and his wife Leona have had some health problems over the past few years, and Don and Shirlee Myers had always been there to help out.
"Just last week, she brought me a loaf of French bread. It was the kind she knew I liked, but it comes from Eagle and it's too far for us to go," said Leona Bartling. "The last thing she said on her way out the door was, 'Remember, we're just a phone call away.'"
Don Myers had promised to take Max to his annual eye examination in Champaign on Tuesday, but he and his wife were found dead in their Danville home late Monday evening, according to authorities. Their deaths, which are being called a double homicide, are under investigation.
On Max Bartling's first day at Teepak back in 1965, he found his desk was right next to that of Mr. Myers. Not only the men, but their wives, as well, formed a friendship that lasted until this week's tragedy. Over the years, the couples attended parties and traveled to Germany together.
"They were part of our family," said Leona Bartling. "Max and Don were like brothers."
"I just did a stay in the hospital," Leona said. "Don and Shirlee were with Max and with me the whole time. They were caretaking, comforting kind of people."
"When Shirlee came to the house, if there were dirty dishes, she'd do them. If there was a load of laundry, she'd do it," Leona said.
Don Myers will also be sorely missed at the weekly gathering of former co-workers every Friday at the Danville Red Lobster.
"It's not a set thing," said Don Story, who worked with Mr. Myers for more than 30 years. "It's just a noisy bunch of Teepakers. We get together and talk about anything and everything and enjoy the company."
Teacher, friend remember victim
A man whose death was caused by a career criminal on Interstate 74 Monday was his opposite, a successful graduate of Boston College who climbed mountains in Alaska.
"He was an easygoing guy who always had a smile on his face," said Tom Durkin, who taught Seth Meiller in his high school honors English class. "He was a good student."
Mr. Meiller grew up in a suburb of Baltimore where the median household income is more than $61,000, more than 50 percent higher than the national figure. He was driving to Colorado to stay with his best friend for a year and hike the Rockies, when he happened to pass a truck driven by Gary Allen Myers of Danville.
Mr. Meiller was taking a year off before going to law school, after working as a special-education teacher, according to the Baltimore Sun.
No one will ever know why Mr. Myers slammed his pickup truck into the Subaru carrying Mr. Meiller and his sister, Jessica, to Boulder. Mr. Meiller managed to regain control of his vehicle, but Mr. Myers slammed into them again, both vehicles went into the median, and a semitrailer truck struck the Subaru on the driver's side.
Mr. Meiller died instantly of head injuries, according to the Champaign County coroner's office. His sister has already been released from Urbana's Carle Foundation Hospital.
Mr. Myers, 43, who was released from prison in Ohio in June, had been in prison since 1991 and had a criminal history dating back two decades.
Born in 1978, Mr. Meiller was the son of a dentist and professor in Lutherville, Md. He attended an elite Jesuit high school, Loyola Blakefield, then graduated from Boston College, another Jesuit school.
Durkin, who taught him in middle school and in his senior year, remembers a sunny youth.
"I remember him more for his smile in class than anything else," Durkin said.
Besides being bright, Mr. Meiller was a superb athlete, Durkin said. Newspaper clippings tell of his success in lacrosse, but Durkin recalls the student was good in other sports, especially hockey.
Mr. Meiller was en route to Boulder to stay for about a year with his best friend, Mike Capizzi, "putzing around" in his friend's term.
Capizzi told the Baltimore Sun that Mr. Meiller was an "absolutely incredible" friend who enjoyed reading philosophy. He also wrote reviews of new music for a Web site, and had climbed mountains considered some of the most dangerous in Alaska, according to accounts he published on the Web.
His sister Jessica, 28, is a human-rights activist who has published scholarly articles on Maryland's sea life.