Jul 25, 2023

Bethel man gets 25 to 50 years for shooting at police in 2019

MEDIA COURTHOUSE — A Bethel Township man was sentenced to 25 to 50 years for firing on officers from his home in an hourslong standoff in 2019.

Terrence Zanchuck, 49, of the 1500 block of Garnet Mine Road, was found guilty on three counts each of aggravated assault, fear of imminent serious bodily injury to designated individuals and assault of a law enforcement officer following a bench trial before Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony Scanlon in April.

He was also convicted on one count each of possessing an instrument of crime, person not to possess a firearm and terroristic threats.

Zanchuck was arrested Dec. 22, 2019, by members of the Central Delaware County Tactical Response Team.

Scanlon heard from multiple officers involved in that ordeal at trial who said they had gone to investigate a report of shots fired Dec. 21. Assistant District Attorney Gina Gorbey indicated that had resulted in a bullet going into a neighbor’s home.

Middletown Cpl. Louis Stackeni, who formerly worked for the Bethel Township Police Department, said he had prior contact with Zanchuck in 2016 for an involuntary commitment and that firearms had been recovered from the home at that time.

Stackeni testified that he called for Zanchuck to come out, but there was no response. Bethel Officer Derek Klinger also knocked on Zanchuck’s door while Stackeni covered him from a nearby truck on the property, but again there was no response, he said.

The officers retreated back behind the open doors of their cars parked about 20 yards from the door in the property’s driveway and said they heard a shot coming from the rear of the property shortly after.

Zanchuck came out of the house shortly after with a cellphone or small camera in his hand, but no gun, Stackeni testified.

“He came out and he told us to get the F off of his property,” Stackeni said.

When he tried to talk to Zanchuck, Stackeni said he repeated to get off the property “and that he was going to shoot us all.”

A second shot came about 20 minutes later, again from the rear of the property, and Zanchuck again came out, this time with a bolt-action rifle, Stackeni testified.

The bolt was in an “open” position and not pointed at officers, he said. Zanchuck then headed for his back porch and there was no further activity for about another 10 to 20 minutes.

That was when Upper Chichester Officer Christopher Gaspari said he heard a window on the southwest corner of the home open. Gaspari had been positioned near two large trees about 25 yards from the window and was prone on the ground.

As soon as he heard the window, Gaspari said he rolled behind a tree and then heard the crack of a gunshot 2 to 3 seconds later, just before debris from the tree rained down on him.

“I couldn’t hear where it hit … I could just feel the debris,” he testified. “I don’t know if it was bark from the tree or if it was leaves or what have you, but it definitely landed around and on me. At that point I figured Mr. Zanchuck knew where I was and he was trying to shoot me.”

Gaspari testified he did not feel like this was a warning shot, as the first two may have been. He went down a hill toward a retaining wall for new construction and made his way back around the property.

Other officers testified that Gaspari said over the radio that he felt like that third shot was for him. About five or 10 minutes later, Stackeni said he saw a rifle barrel sticking out of the main door on the side of the house at about hip height and level, then a muzzle flash as the fourth and final shot was fired.

That shot struck the undercarriage and right rear tire of the police vehicle where Stackeni, Klinger and Upper Chichester Officer Brian Gilmore were posted. Stackeni and Klinger estimated the shot came within 3 or 4 feet of them. Gilmore said it was about a foot from his left leg.

“I would assume a warning shot isn’t aimed within a foot of the person,” said Gilmore. “I took that to be an assault.”

Aston Police Sgt. Jeff Brown, who also heads up the tactical team, said it was after that shot that the other officers were evacuated and armored personnel made their way toward the house.

Brown said his team again made contact with Zanchuck but could not get him out of the house, so they began pelting the windows with “less-than-lethal” rubber grenade rounds in preparation for smoking him out with gas.

Zanchuck exited the building and was shot with multiple rubber rounds, went back inside, and was taken into custody when he came back out and sat in a chair on the porch, Brown testified.

Prior to sentencing Monday, defense attorney Christopher Boggs asked the judge to reconsider the most serious offenses of assaulting an officer, each count of which carried a 20-year mandatory minimum.

He said that because no one was actually struck by a bullet, the commonwealth had to show Zanchuck actually intended to hit an officer as he fired upon them rather simply firing recklessly.

Boggs said Zanchuck was remorseful for what he did do, but at most had shown indifference to the officers’ well-being. He argued the final shot was described as coming from the hip rather than eye level.

“No officer sees the defendant. No officer saw him aiming,” Boggs said. “There’s no evidence he was looking at police when he fired that shot.”

Gorbey countered that the intent was present and evident Zanchuck’s own words: “Get off my property or I will kill you.”

“I find it extremely implausible and difficult to believe that somehow his firing all these shots and these four — the officer who was in the back and the three that were hiding by the police car — was coincidental; that he … was just trying to scare these officers off but somehow managed to fire bullets that came within feet of them,” said Gorbey. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Scanlon agreed with the prosecution, dismissing the idea that Zanchuck did not intend to shoot the officers as “ridiculous” and saying it “defies common sense.”

“It’s pretty clear Mr. Zanchuck had the intent to scare the police off and, if necessary, shoot them off his property,” Scanlon said. “This court cannot divorce itself from reality. These are the facts of the case.”

Boggs presented testimony Monday from a friend of Zanchuck’s who has known him for 30 years and described him as a good man with mental health issues who had fallen off the deep end after the death of his brother.

Boggs likewise described his client as a man who had lost his support system and been in crisis since 2016, but said he was doing better in jail. He asked that the judge restrict the sentence to just the 20-year minimum and that the friend be allowed to take on any weapons Zanchuck was being told to forfeit.

Gorbey said there were at least 17 guns collected from the home by police, as well as three or four crossbows and more than 2,000 pieces of ammunition. The judge described it as a “weapons depot” and denied Boggs’ request.

Gorbey asked Scanlon to take into account the effect this had on the officers and neighborhood, and to appreciate the magnitude of Zanchuck’s actions in crafting the sentence. She reiterated that she firmly believes Zanchuck was shooting with the intention of hitting those officers and just happened to miss, thankfully.

Gorbey read a letter from one of the neighbors who described having to live with Zanchuck blasting guns from his property for years and said it was a miracle no one had been injured.

Zanchuck also apologized to the judge. Scanlon said he believed Zanchuck was sorry and hoped he could subdue his demons in prison, but mental health issues are no excuse for shooting at officers.

Scanlon described police as the “guardians of society,” and said that if someone would not hesitate to fire upon them, that person would likely shoot at anyone.

In addition to his state sentence, Zanchuck was ordered to provide a DNA sample to state police and undergo one year of mandatory supervision upon his release from prison.

“I am thankful for the long and just sentence imposed by Judge Scanlon today,” District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said after the proceedings. “Anyone who would open fire on police officers presents an incredible danger to our communities. It’s by God’s grace these brave officers were able to bring this defendant to justice without injury and I thank them for their work to protect us each and every day.”

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