A former West Penn Township police officer faces several charges stemming from an incident earlier this year in which he reportedly shot a deer involved in a vehicle crash but also hit a motorist’s windshield.
Further, during the course of an investigation into the incident, this police officer allegedly fabricated some of the story about it.
According to court papers obtained by The Canary, this incident happened back on April 12 along Route 309 in West Penn Township, Schuylkill County.
Records show now-former West Penn police officer Kai Apel responded to a vehicle crash involving a deer. Prior to being flagged down to respond, Apel was in his police vehicle in the center median of Route 309 near Leiby’s.
The vehicle crash with the deer happened near a local business, Zawada Enterprises.
Apel reportedly cleared the scene of the crash on the highway but still had to do something with the deer that was still on the road and apparently not dead. As the deer lay in the southbound lanes of the highway, Apel decided to put the deer down with his service pistol.
The officer reportedly used his vehicle to block the southbound side of Route 309 before putting down the deer. Several shots were fired.
With one of those shots, Apel allegedly struck the windshield of a vehicle headed north, in the direction of the crash.
However, there are conflicting reports from Apel and witnesses, as gathered by State Police as part of their investigation into the incident.
Did Apel shoot in the direction of oncoming traffic? Or did he, as he said, carefully shoot toward an embankment on the side of the road.
Investigation: Former West Penn Officer Hit Motorist’s Windshield While Attempting to Put Down Deer on Route 309
After the scene at the crash was wrapped up, the incident was investigated initially by West Penn Police Chief James Bonner.
Bonner reportedly recovered evidence of 4 bullets being discharged from Apel’s service weapon. There were 4 shell casings found at the scene of the crash and Apel’s service weapon had 11 rounds remaining of the original 15.
At about 3 p.m. that same day, Schuylkill County District Attorney Mike O’Pake contacted Pennsylvania State Police-Frackville to conduct an investigation into the incident, specifically in regard to Apel’s actions.
That’s when Bonner handed over all evidence he collected in his initial investigation, like statements from Apel and his body cam footage.
State Police Conduct Investigation
State Police-Frackville started an investigation into this officer-involved shooting hours after it happened.
According to an affidavit filed in District Court on Nov. 8, Trooper Zachary McDonald responded to the scene of the crash and deer shooting and found what he believed to be a blood stain on the road. This stain, he said, was just east of that local business, Zawada Enterprises.
McDonald states that while on the scene, he stood in the roadway and faced south, which is the direction Apel said he’d fired his weapon to put down the deer earlier that day. The State Police Trooper noted the presence of a wooded area and embankment to the east and that business to the west.
Police Interview West Penn Chief
As part of McDonald’s investigation, several interviews were conducted.
Bonner recounted the story of what happened during the incident response. He said Apel, after deciding to put the deer down with his service weapon, fired in the direction of northbound traffic.
Later, a motorist flagged down Apel to say that he believed a bullet struck his windshield.
McDonald then questioned a witness to the incident that happened earlier that day.
Michael Zawada reportedly told State Police that he was arriving at work just before 6 a.m. on April 12. He parked his vehicle right in front of the business and said he was about 50 yards from where Apel had parked his vehicle in the middle of the roadway at the scene of the crash, the emergency lights flashing.
Zawada said he saw the deer laying on the road and then saw Apel get out of the police vehicle and draw his weapon. He said Apel fired 1 shot directly toward northbound traffic.
“He (Zawada) could not believe that the officer decided to shoot the deer in the direction of oncoming traffic,” McDonald notes in his affidavit.
Zawada reportedly said Apel then fired 3 more times in succession. After the last shot was fired, he told police he then looked southbound on the highway and noticed headlights of a vehicle coming north on Route 309.
Co-workers Headed to Work Interviewed
McDonald then interviewed Craig Moore.
Moore told police he was driving to work with a co-worker, Stephen Geise, with his headlights on. As the two headed north, Moore said he saw emergency lights from a pair of police vehicles.
He first saw one police vehicle blocking a southbound lane of Route 309 but he continued north. As he got closer to the second police vehicle, Moore told State Police he heard a single shot ring out and then noticed his windshield partially shattered.
This confused and alarmed Moore who kept driving and then noticed the deer on the road as he passed the police vehicle blocking traffic. With a shattered windshield, Moore pulled into the parking lot at Zawada Enterprises and notified Apel of what happened.
The next day, McDonald talked with Geise, who was in the vehicle headed to work with Moore. He related a similar story as Moore, adding that he thought they’d driven into a shootout of some sort. After seeing the deer on the road, Geise then also realized what happened.
McDonald also observed the truck Moore and Geise were riding in that day to work, still parked at Zawada Enterprises. That’s when he saw the shattered windshield and evidence that the bullet hit the windshield “at about head height of an average-sized passenger.”
On April 14, two days after the shooting incident, McDonald interviewed a then-employee at Zawada Enterprises, Justin Moyer. Moyer told police that he was unloading a truck at work that morning when he heard between 4-5 shots fired. He said the shots were all fired within the span of about 5 seconds.
Apel Questioned by State Police
With that information in hand, State Police called Apel to the Frackville barracks for an interview. McDonald was joined for the interview with Trooper Shawn Tray.
Apel reportedly told police that on the morning of April 12, a passing motorist flagged him down while he was sitting in his police vehicle, letting him know about the crash near Zawada Enterprises.
After completing the investigation of the crash, Apel said he noted the deer hit in the crash “rolling in the road.” Apel said he blocked a lane of traffic “so he would have a safe area to work” and also waited for a West Penn Twp. Corporal to a request for help. He said the Corporal never responded.
Apel said he waited for a “lull” in traffic and “strategically placed himself into a safe location with his back facing Zawada Enterprises to shoot into the embankment on the other side of the roadway.”
At that time, Apel said he discharged his weapon into the deer toward the embankment and then went back to his vehicle, waiting for the deer to die. Apel said he took 3 shots, all between 5-8 feet from the deer and “evaluated after every shot,” according to McDonald’s affidavit notes.
While he was shooting, Apel told police he didn’t see any oncoming traffic.
He then completed a report into the incident and believed everything in the report was accurate. During the entire incident, Apel told police he activated his body cam but wasn’t sure if it was on while he was shooting the deer.
Apel told police, according to McDonald’s notes, “It would be very hard for him to believe his bullet could have struck the vehicle as the direction he shot was not in the direction in which the victims alleged they were.”
McDonald said he also reviewed Apel’s incident report filed at West Penn Township. In it, McDonald said Apel wrote, verbatim, “I stepped out of the vehicle and waited for traffic to clear and fired one shot which was around the facial region. I went back to my vehicle and waited for traffic to subside. I then stepped out and fired one more shot which went down the back and I checked again for cars and fired one more shot, which was near the shoulder and back region of the deer.”
After reviewing all that evidence, McDonald believed the statements Apel gave, both in the report and at the Frackville barracks, contradict with those given by witnesses, including the succession of the shots fired and the direction in which they were fired.
Charges Filed Against Apel on Nov. 8
Charges were filed against Apel before District Magistrate David Plachko on Nov. 8. At a Preliminary Hearing currently scheduled for Dec. 19 at 11:30 a.m. before Plachko, Apel will have to answer to a pair of second-degree misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and another second-degree misdemeanor of “Unsworn Falsification to Authorities”.