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'He would've killed someone'

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "He used my truck as a weapon," says Tom Rowlands, 61, after state police fatally shot Scott Mackelvey at the front of Rowlands' Wildcat Mountain home.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "He used my truck as a weapon," says Tom Rowlands, 61, after state police fatally shot Scott Mackelvey at the front of Rowlands' Wildcat Mountain home.
Published May 27. 2010 05:00PM

Tom Rowlands of Lewistown Valley says he offered help to a troubled acquaintance for many months.

But the acquaintance ultimately subjected Rowlands to a morning of sheer terror, including a home invasion and theft which led to a fatal shooting by police just steps from Rowlands' front door.

Rowlands, 61, talked to The TIMES NEWS on Wednesday, one day after state police opened fire and fatally shot Scott Mackelvey on Rowlands' front driveway, pumping several bullets into the 41-year-old Tuscarora man.

Rowlands said the entire episode, which began about 7:30 a.m., caught him off-guard. He said it started when he heard a ruckus at the front of his house.

"I was in bed and looked out the window. He (Mackelvey) tried to get in the front door. But he took off. Then he came back."

Mackelvey had been at the front door of the Rowlands house on Whitetail Crossing Drive in the Wildcat Development, three miles from Tamaqua. Rowlands lives in the split level with his wife, the former Joann Pedron. However, at the time of the incident, Rowlands was alone at the residence.

Rowlands said Mackelvey was unsuccessful, at first, in gaining entry. Then, for some reason, Mackelvey apparently left, stole a tractor-trailer at nearby Koch's Turkey Farm and returned.

He proceeded to drive the truck through Rowlands chain link fence, then crossed over the front lawn and smashed the truck into a large tree. The commotion aroused Rowlands, who got out of bed and went into the bathroom.

"When I came out of the bathroom, he was standing in my kitchen," said Rowlands. Rowlands' first inclination was to protect himself. "I went out through my dining room to the garage and got a spindle, the kind from a stairway. I said 'don't come near me.'"

Rowlands said Mackelvey was a strong man who stood six feet, two inches.

According to Rowlands, at least four or five neighbors had heard the commotion and called 911.

Rowlands said Mackelvey had moved into the living room when he saw police arrive at the front of the house.

"He asked me 'did you call the state police?'"

Rowlands told Mackelvey that the crash of the truck was so loud it was likely several neighbors summoned help.

At that point, Mackelvey fled out the rear door and disappeared.

"He might have hid in the bushes," said Rowlands. "I thought he was gone."

However, as police were checking out the property and surroundings, Mackelvey re-entered the house via the kitchen and took the keys to Rowlands' 1999 Chevrolet pickup truck.

Even though police were surrounding the place and an unmarked police cruiser had blocked the driveway, Mackelvey jumped into the truck and tried to push the police car out of the way, spinning the truck tires and generating black smoke.

"He burned rubber. It was smoking everywhere," said Rowlands. "He almost hit one cop who was standing between the truck and the police car. The cops told him to stop at least three times," said Rowlands. "He was using the truck as a weapon. If he would have gotten out of here, he would've killed someone. They (police) shot out my tires. He stopped trying to push the car back. The police told him to get out but he wouldn't get out of the truck."

At that point, officers fired, said Rowlands, who said he heard multiple shots, "at least 10 or 13." Early reports indicate that police shot Mckelvey about 10 times, although the final police report is weeks away.

When police approached the truck and opened the door, said Rowlands, Mackelvey fell onto the grass next to the driveway. Police administered CPR, said Rowlands, but he believes Mackelvey already was dead.

The body was kept at the site for hours while police investigated. Rowlands said he wasn't allowed back in his house for 12 hours as police conducted their work both inside and outside his residence.

Rowlands said Mackelvey came from the Philadelphia area, although reports indicate he was originally from Tamaqua. Rowlands called him more of an acquaintance than a friend.

"I knew him a long time but never hung around him."

It is still unclear what may have set off Mckelvey and results of an autopsy are not yet available.

Rowlands, and to a greater extent, wife Joann, tried to help Mackelvey turn his life around. When the couple learned Mackelvey was living in Barnesville at a place without utilities, they found a more suitable home in Tuscarora for him.

When Mackelvey had gotten into legal trouble, they helped him pay fines. They also bought groceries for him and paid some medical expenses.

Still, Mackelvey seemed to have continuing trouble with alcohol, according to those who knew him.

"He didn't work," said Rowlands. "All he did was drink, and when he drank, he got nasty. It was like a switch went on."

Mackelvey was pronounced dead by Schuylkill County Coroner Joseph E. Lipsett. His body wasn't removed until more than five hours after the incident. Rowlands said his wife phoned Mackelvey's mother in the Philadelphia area to tell her what had happened. Distraught over events, Joann Rowlands then left her house to spend the night with a friend.

"She's still upset. She couldn't come back to the house," said Rowlands.

Rowlands stayed at his house Tuesday night and tended to four pet dogs. But he said he had difficulty falling asleep.

"I was awake until about 2 a.m." He has no transportation as his truck has been impounded by police.

Evidence of the altercation can be seen everywhere on the property. Shattered glass from the truck's windshield litters the driveway. A tree damaged by the collision has fallen across the lawn. The TIMES NEWS found a spent 44-caliber bullet casing at the site where the body rested on the lawn. The shell apparently was overlooked during site clean up by state police. It was turned over to Rowlands who will give it to police officer Frank DiMarco, a neighbor.

Rowlands is disabled, suffering a medical condition that ended his career as a carpenter. He remains shaken by the tragedy, but said he's learned to handle adversity. In fact, Tuesday's tragedy was the second fatal shooting he's witnessed.

Forty-seven years ago Rowlands and his twin brother David, then age 14, went target shooting with a childhood pal who owned a rifle. The three youngsters climbed a silt bank atop the Dutch Hill section of Tamaqua. The rifle discharged accidentally, fatally injuring their friend. In many ways, Tuesday's event brought back heartbreaking memories of that childhood tragedy.

But Rowlands describes himself as someone with "thick skin." He said he'll try again to put things together. He'll try to put the past behind - one more time - and move forward.

"I've been through a lot," he said.

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