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Georgia Police Say Witnesses Only Key to Shooting on Interstate

January 16, 1991

ATLANTA (AP) _ A rush-hour shootout on Interstate 285 that left one dead, one wounded and three others hurt in a seven-car pileup was being pieced together by police searching for witnesses Wednesday.

So far, witnesses have told police only that gunfire erupted in the westbound lanes of the perimeter highway during Tuesday’s afternoon rush hour after one car apparently cut in front of another.

Hal Abercrombie of Atlanta, a 43-year-old courier, was shot in the chest and pronounced dead at Northside Hospital an hour after the shooting, authorities said. Abercrombie was on duty in his courier vehicle when he was shot.

In the second car were James Earl VanAlstine, 51, of Woodstock, and his sons, James Edward VanAlstine, 31, and Jeffrey Lee VanAlstine, 29, police said. James Edward VanAlstine, who was wounded during the shooting, was being held Wednesday in the county jail, charged with murder in Abercrombie’s death, authorities said.

The elder VanAlstine told police that Abercrombie drove up beside their car and opened fire for no apparent reason.

″All we’ve got is one side of the story,″ said Sgt. Donald Cook, police spokesman. ″We’re still trying to locate witnesses. Without the witnesses, a judge will have to decide what happened.″

The highway fight apparently began when the VanAlstines cut off Abercrombie’s vehicle, said Police Lt. David Guy. Both gunmen then began shooting with 9mm handguns, he said, but police do not know how many shots were fired or who fired the first shot.

James Earl VanAlstine was charged with simple battery and obstruction of an officer after an altercation with an off-duty police officer at the hospital where his son was treated, Guy said. Jeffrey Lee VanAlstine, who was driving the second car, was charged with driving under the influence, authorities said.

Guy said Abercrombie’s Chevrolet Blazer went out of control after the shooting. It struck a flatbed truck hauling a trailer and caused a seven-car collision.

Three women traveling in vehicles involved in the collision, one of them pregnant, were treated at hospitals and released.

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