“Honey, would you do me a favor?” the attractive blonde asked her husband.
“Sure,” he replied.
“Tell our friends how you were shot,” she unexpectedly implored.
The room became noticeably quiet. The ice in the glasses stopped clinking, and all eyes at the dinner party turned nervously toward the tall, bespectacled anesthetist standing near the crackling fire in the fireplace.
Without missing a beat, the pleasant man smiled and replied, “No, honey. You tell it better than me. Go ahead.”
“No, you tell it,” his wife replied.
“Well, the weather was very cold on January 25, 1981, in Clinton County,” Kent Ousley began. “I had graduated from Clinton-Massie High School the summer before, and had started classes at Southern State in the fall.
“I was feeling good, listening to music on my car radio as I made the exit from Interstate 71, and turned onto State Route 380 enroute to see my friend, Steve Barton. Steve lived about three miles south of State Route 73.”
“Within a few minutes, I came up behind a car that was creeping along the highway with their lights off,” Kent told the group of people who crowded around, now hanging onto his every word.
“Abruptly, the car took off at a high rate of speed and disappeared near Doster Road,” he continued. “I didn’t think much more about it. I thought it was some kids fooling around.”
“As I rounded the next curve, the car appeared again just ahead of me, so I passed it. Suddenly, I saw someone holding a gun stick an arm out the window. Then, I heard a loud ‘bang’ as my back passenger window shattered. I felt the bullet hit me in the jaw. The blood came profusely. Luckily, by this time I was about three hundred yards from the Barton residence. I pulled into their driveway and honked the horn. Mr. Barton came outside, saw the blood, and immediately called the life squad,” Kent stated. “I woke up at Clinton Memorial Hospital with a deputy sheriff gazing down at me on the stretcher.”
As Clinton County Sheriff, I picked up the telephone on the third ring. “Sheriff, we’ve just received a report of a shooting on State Route 380. The deputies at the scene reported an armed robbery occurred at the Sohio gas station moments before. The deputies believe the robbery and shooting are related,” the radio dispatcher said.
I arrived at the Barton residence, and met Bob Barton, a former Ohio State Highway Trooper. “Sheriff Haley, they shot at Kent more than once. I found some bullet holes in the barn across the road,” Barton said.
We walked across the highway and found two bullet holes in the side of the old red barn. They appeared to have come from a .38 caliber revolver.
At that time, the Sheriff’s Office had been on alert for the armed robbers for two months. We had already received reports of gas station robberies in Highland, Fayette, Greene, Warren, Clermont and Madison counties. None had occurred in Clinton County, until now.
At that moment, the investigation took a grim turn. We were not only looking for robbers, but now were seeking individuals wanted for attempted murder with no known suspects.
Two weeks later, we received a report of another armed robbery. That time it happened in Highland County.
Luckily, a witness saw the suspect vehicle and called the Sheriff’s Office with a description. A couple minutes later, we received another call from a citizen who reported seeing a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s car.
We raced to the suspect’s house. Deputies from Clinton and Highland counties surrounded the house, with search warrant in hand.
We were confident as we entered the front door. After searching for an hour we had found nothing, and our optimism soon turned to discouragement. The warrant had provided us great latitude, but twice we came up empty-handed.
Chief Deputy Larry Newland and Captain Mike Cluxton walked over and asked, “What do we do now, Sheriff?”
“Let’s try one more time,” I said as I stepped back into a small downstairs bedroom. Incredibly, as I turned, I saw tennis shoe prints in the dust on top of the dresser. “Larry, Mike, look. Someone has stood on this dresser,” I said.
Acutely aware of a link to the crime, I looked at the deputies and pointed to the ceiling, and we slowly looked upward in unison. Captain Cluxton climbed up on a chair and lifted a ceiling tile. “Sheriff, there’s money bags, guns, and tools taken in the recent armed robberies!” he exclaimed.
Many years later, Kent Ousley was finishing his story to his spellbound guests. “And that is why I became an anesthetist!” he said to sharp laughter.
Then, he turned serious. “One more inch to the left and I would not be here to tell this story,” he said.
With those words, Kent turned around, walked to the kitchen, and didn’t look back.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.