September 19, 2014

Medina
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Neighbors’ report of victim’s public drunkeness had police at complex earlier on night of slaying

Lisa Hlavinka | The Gazette

MEDINA — According to his neighbors, Gary Barnett was a friendly man and a decent neighbor — except when he was drinking.

Misty Pearce said she believes Barnett was intoxicated the night he was stabbed to death. Pearce lives in Building B of the Branch Road apartments; Barnett lived in Building A, 875 Branch Road.

Around 6 p.m. Monday, her two sons were playing outside with other boys that live in the apartments when she claims Barnett threw a whiskey bottle at Jennifer Hellenbarger’s 11-year-old son.


Robert Ritenour Jr., 8, holds up the whiskey bottle Gary Barnett allegedly threw at Ritenour’s 11-year-old friend Monday. Police later found Barnett, 60, stabbed to death. (Lisa Hlavinka | Gazette)

“It came within a foot to two feet of hitting him,” Pearce said. “The kid didn’t do anything.”

Pearce called police, but Barnett did not answer the door when officers arrived.

“It got real quiet when the cops pulled in, so I think he knew they were there,” she said. “I had the bottle in my possession and all the kids told them what happened, so it was enough for them to get him for public drunkenness.”

Pearce called police once more at 7:19 p.m. after she claims Barnett shouted threats he was going to kill her.

Pearce said as she yelled back at Barnett, she also could hear him in a verbal altercation with his niece, Tracy Jewel Salter-Johnson, who is charged in Barnett’s murder.

“He was yelling at me, yelling at her, and then he’d yell back at me again,” she said.

Then Pearce said Salter-Johnson closed the sliding glass door of Barnett’s apartment, cutting off all communication.

“She just walked up very politely and slid the door closed,” Pearce said. “Then the next thing I know, everyone is saying Gary’s dead.”

Hellenbarger, whose son was nearly hit with the liquor bottle, awoke at 4:30 a.m. to hear police wheeling Barnett’s body out of the apartment. She also lives in Building A.

Pearce said Barnett and his sister, Salter-Johnson’s mother, were carnival workers.

“Someone said that (Salter-Johnson) would watch the apartment while he was on circuit,” she said. “She was in and out all the time.”

Pearce and Hellenbarger claimed Barnett had fights with neighbors in the past, especially when he was drinking.

“We used to mow the grass together,” Pearce said. “He seemed like a nice guy, and then last night, I don’t know, he really shocked me.”

Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or lhlavinka@ohio.net.