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Tragedy strikes Lancaster leaving three dead

The Collins family. From left, Ryan, Jessica, David center rear, and Nick. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
April 25, 2012
LANCASTER–Just when the North Country was starting to process the double murder suicide that took place in Dalton, tragedy struck again four days later with the murder of David Collins, 44, of Lancaster.

At 3:05 a.m.. Tuesday morning, a 911 call was placed by Collins' fiancée, Heidi Pedrick. Officer Rick Ball entered the residence to find that Collins had been shot and killed in his front hallway. At this point, Ball was informed that Eugene Sly had shot David Collins and took off on foot towards his home.

Nicholas and Pedrick attempted to save David's life by applying pressure to his wounds. According to David's sister, Mary Keddy, Nicholas wrapped his father's head with a towel in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

Evidently, Mr. Sly knocked on the door of the Collins home and asked David's son, Nicholas, if he could speak to his father. Nicholas recognized Eugene Sly and proceeded to wake his father, who was shot the second he came into Eugene's line of vision. Sly reportedly ran off, at which point Nicholas Collins told Lancaster Police Chief, John Gardiner, that he shot a gun towards the direction of the Sly residence. Nicholas re-entered his home to retrieve more bullets, but was reportedly, according to Gardiner, disarmed and remained cooperative.

Soon after back-up officers arrived on scene, a fire was detected at the Sly residence next door. A pickup truck with a camper attached was ablaze. Because the scene was not yet secure, the local fire department was unable to put out any fires upon their arrival.

"We couldn't let anyone near the fire, because we weren't sure where the shooter was. We couldn't put innocent people's lives at risk." Gardiner said.

After several attempts via phone to see if anyone was inside the Sly residence, a special armored vehicle called a "Bear" was used to knock in the front door. A "robot" equipped with a camera was used to inspect the inside of the home. When the robot showed no bodies or suspects inside the house, officers entered to further investigate. When asked if anything odd was found inside the Sly's home, that would point to violent behavior, Gardiner replied "There were some things that we found that indicated to us that he was the shooter."

During a phone call Wednesday evening, Dorothy Skeels, who lives on the opposite side of the Collins home, recounted the events of that morning. She conveyed that she was awoken by what she thought were fireworks. She then reported hearing loud voices coming from the Collins home, "I heard a woman talking loudly. She was saying oh my God, dead, and something about a dog." Skeels went on to say, "I only caught bits and pieces, but I heard the voices get louder, then calm down, then they would start back up again." At first Skeels thought there had been a house fire. "I heard a big bang. It was much louder than all the other pops and sounds I heard, almost like a tank of gas exploded." "I also heard the crackling of fire." she added.

Skeels reportedly had little contact with the Collins household, only "...saw the boys walking the dogs once in a while" she explained.

A motive has not yet been determined, and none may ever be at this point. A previous property line dispute occurred more than three years ago, but no further documented arguments or skirmishes had been reported since.

Little is known about Eugene and Elena Sly. According to town records, they have lived in Lancaster for roughly nine years. Both were believed to be retired.

Neighbor Brian Wells stated that he "...didn't know them and didn't witness what happened." He said that they "seemed reclusive and weren't seen outside much". One event with Eugene Sly that Wells did recall was with the former owner of the Collins house. Wells noticed the previous owner of the Collins house park his truck on the Sly's land. Eugene threw a fit, and told the man to move his truck.

A former resident of Wesson Road, who wishes to remain anonymous, reported that she would go door to door selling various things for different fundraisers and described the Slys as "a bit odd". She went on to say, "When they would open their door, they would crack it open just a tiny bit, and then shut it real quick."

Mary Keddy, David's sister, resided at her brother's home for two years. During that time they built a deck on the back of the house. Every day she would notice the Slys at the back of the property with binoculars watching what they were doing. "I would look up and see her hat peeking over the bushes." At one point Keddy went to question them, "but they ran away" she explained. "I never knew they were crazy enough to kill my brother" Mary Keddy said.

Investigators have been in touch with the only child of the Slys. Gardiner stated that she had come to Lancaster to retrieve some items from the home. The estranged brother of Eugene Sly placed a call to the Lancaster Police Department to inquire about what happened.

Debbie Hilton, who has lived on Wesson Road for many years, gave her reaction to the tragedy. "We fortunately were not home at that terrible time. Our daughter was calling us and letting us know what was happening. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the family, friends, and all involved. You would NEVER imagine that something like this could happen right next door." She went on to say, "I never ever would have even thought something like this could or would happen. It seems like it could and does happen all around, but here in Lancaster, on Wesson Road, never."

Earlier on the evening David was killed, he and his friend Phil Riff were out riding their Jeeps on mountain trails, something they loved to do. At around midnight they grew hungry and decided to call it a night. "He was my best friend, I just can't believe it" Phil remarked as he was standing outside the Lancaster police department prior to questioning. "This came out of nowhere" he said.

Keddy, David's only sister gave details about the kind of person her brother was. He was "the kind of family man that would drop anything he was doing if someone asked him for something, even if it was the smallest thing. And it wasn't even just family members it was everyone" She explained.

David lived for the outdoors. He loved to fish, hunt, camp, ride his ATV as well as his motorcycle. "He was so looking forward to teaching his grandson how to do all of those things." Mary said.

"He would check on our mother every day to make sure everything was alright at her house and to see if she needed anything." Mary said proudly of David.

David has three children, Ryan, Nicholas and Jessica, all of whom he raised himself. When the kids were very young, their mother, Joanne, was in a car accident that left her incapable of caring for them. She was placed in a home in St. Johnsbury, Vt. and David remained her guardian.

The attorney general's office released a statement Friday in which they confirmed the identities of the Slys, though Elena could not be positively identified because of the condition of her body. They also noted and that a .38 caliber revolver was found within the burned-out camper, which was consistent with the weapon used to kill Collins. Collins died of a gunshot wound to the head and a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Two bullets were recovered from his body.

The cause of the fire in the Slys' truck is undetermined and remains under investigation.

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Varney Smith
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