Schuylkill resident charged in trucker’s death was mentally ill, testimony says — (The Morning Call)

Original article no longer available

The Morning Call

By Chris Parker of The Morning Call

September 27, 2005

The sight of a tractor-trailer in his rearview mirror triggered a psychotic episode for a mentally ill Schuylkill County man, who fired a barrage of bullets into the truck when it pulled off Interstate 81, killing its driver, a psychiatrist testified Friday.

Lance R. Ossman, 37, of Tower City ”had a particular sensitivity to people coming up behind him” and believed ”he had to do something cataclysmic to save himself,” Dr. Larry Rotenberg said.

That led Ossman to fatally shoot truck driver Neil M. Tattersall, 54, of Ilebizard, Quebec, 11 times at a pulloff in Frailey Township on April 21, 2004, Rotenberg testified at Ossman’s Schuylkill County Court trial.

Ossman, who told police after being arrested that he was possessed by a demon, is charged with homicide, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors have said Ossman should be found guilty but mentally ill.

Rotenberg testified Ossman didn’t know what he was doing when he shot Tattersall. In an evaluation days after the shooting, Ossman told him, ”I guess I must have gotten out and smoked him.”

Nor did he understand that his actions were wrong. To Ossman, the perceived threat was as real ”as Katrina was to the hurricane victims,” Rotenberg said.

”Are you contending that at the time of this homicide, Lance Ossman didn’t know that killing another person was wrong?” asked Assistant District Attorney James Caravan.

”Yes,” Rotenberg replied.

He said Ossman’s mental illness has improved with medication, but that doesn’t mean he is cured. ”I would certainly not want him out in the community at this point,” he said.

Rotenberg was the final defense witness to testify on the trial’s fourth day.

Ossman’s attorney, Lora J. McDonald, has called three psychiatrists who have said Ossman met state standards for insanity at the time of the killing in that he did not understand what he was doing.

Ossman’s mother and sister also have testified that he struggled with mental illness since childhood, and was acting increasingly strange in the days before Tattersall’s slaying ­ even missing his father’s funeral.

Prosecutors expect to call a psychiatrist to rebut the defense when the trial resumes Monday.

Also testifying Friday was psychiatrist Ilan Levinson, who said he examined Ossman at Schuylkill County Prison on April 26, 2004, five days after the killing.

Ossman, who had been diagnosed as bipolar, meaning he had exaggerated mood swings from mania to depression, was taking only Effexor, a medication for depression, when he allegedly shot Tattersall.

That would ”absolutely make him worse,” Levinson said. ”He would have been better with no medication.”

Levinson spoke of Ossman’s abuse of drugs ­ such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and LSD ­ and took police to task for failing to test Ossman for illegal drugs when he was arrested.

”This is something the police should have done,” he said.

Police arrested Ossman 91/2 miles from Tattersall’s truck on I-81 when a state trooper stopped to help him with a front tire that had blown out. The trooper saw Ossman was bloody and had a rifle in plain view in the car, according to testimony.

Police later found Tattersall’s bullet-riddled body and saw the logo on his truck matched the logo on Tattersall’s bloody jacket, which Ossman was wearing.

Ossman was carrying seven guns, a variety of knives ­ including a 3-foot-long sword and machetes ­ a stun gun and a stun baton when police arrested him.

chris.parker@mcall.com

610-379-3224

Original article no longer available

Mom: Killing suspect was depressed

The Morning Call

April 27, 2004

By John J. Moser of The Morning Call

Tower City man’s father died 8 days before I-81 shooting.

The heavily armed Schuylkill County man who police say shot a Canadian trucker to death on Interstate 81 Wednesday hadn’t slept and had barely eaten for a week as he struggled with depression and his father’s recent death, his mother says.
Lance R. Ossman, 36, of Tower City, who police say killed Neil M. Tattersall, 54, of Ilebizard, Quebec, is a son of Clifford L. ”Tippy” Ossman, a founder of the Hegins Trap Shoot gun club and a ”big sportsman,” his widow, Barbara, said Monday.
The elder Ossman died April 13, two days after his 87th birthday, after battling cancer and strokes.

Lance Ossman was charged with homicide and related offenses after police say they found him 91/2 miles north on I-81 from where Tattersall was found in his truck, dead from gunshot wounds.

Information about Menard suggests he recently quit taking a prescription medication for depression, the police chief said.

”I still don’t understand what happened,” Barbara Ossman said. ”I’m alone now, I’m torn apart. I didn’t have a chance to grieve my husband, and now I have to grieve my son.”

Pathologist Richard Bindie said Monday that an autopsy showed Tattersall died of multiple gunshot wounds, and he ruled the death a homicide. Police said there were no new developments in the case.

Barbara Ossman said her son, who told police he was mentally ill and taking medication to treat depression, started showing signs of mental illness as early as fourth grade.

As recently as August, he had checked himself into a hospital because of severe depression, she said.

A day before his father died, she said, Lance told her he was going to go with her to the Tremont Health and Rehabilitation Center to see his father in two days.

But Clifford Ossman, her husband of 31 years, died the next day. Her son then had a manic episode, she said. ”He felt real guilty that he hadn’t seen him enough.”

A memorial service was held in a Tower City funeral home chapel on April 19, but Lance wasn’t there.

”He didn’t make it to the memorial service,” Barbara Ossman said, gently crying. ”He hadn’t slept for a week. He hadn’t hardly eaten anything for a whole week. I think is what threw him over the edge.”

A little more than a day later, police say they found him on I-81 in Butler Township with a flat tire, wearing the dead trucker’s coat complete with bullet holes.

Police say Lance Ossman told them all the firearms were his and they were loaded because he had been at a Cass Township shooting range the previous Sunday and Tuesday, the day before and the day after his father died, and had fired all the guns.

Barbara Ossman said she has not seen her son since his arrest, but spoke to him by telephone in a stilted conversation in which he didn’t say much.

She said prison officials ”are changing his medication and won’t let me see him.”

”He wasn’t getting the help he needed. That’s the truth,” she said. ”In life, Lance got the short end of the stick all around.”

Barbara Ossman said her son, who never married, was born while the family lived in New York, where they stayed until he was 13.

”He was picked on in school ’cause he was shorter than everybody,” she said.

When they moved to Manchester, York County, she said, Lance dressed in a formal outfit for his first day of school, as he had in New York, and was teased because it was not the way children dressed at his new school.

”He wouldn’t wear anything but jeans and a T-shirt after that,” she said.

Lance also was affected by his parents’ rocky marriage and several separations between them, his mother said.

Though Clifford Ossman was an outdoorsman, Lance never went camping or shared in those activities until after moving to his father’s native Hegins area, where his father was a Boy Scout leader and a popular barber in his family’s shop.

The other children moved away. A son now lives in West Chester, Chester County, and daughters live in New York and Indiana.

Clifford Ossman was a member of the Hegins and Valley View fire companies and helped found the shooting club, where he still was an honorary member, his wife said.

No one answered the telephone Monday at the club, where a shoot was scheduled Sunday. Club spokesman Frank Kennesky did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Clifford Ossman became ill with throat cancer, and though radiation cured it, it caused other health problems, his widow said. In 2001, he had a stroke, she said.

Meanwhile, Lance Ossman continued to struggle with depression, his mother said. Finally, on Aug. 4, he checked himself into a hospital.

His mother said that when she returned home from the hospital after 10 p.m., she found her husband lying on the floor, having been stricken again.

It later was difficult for Lance to leave the hospital to see his father, who couldn’t talk, was paralyzed on one side and deteriorated from 205 pounds to 140 pounds, his mother said.

When his father was moved to the Tremont Rehab Center and his mother would go to take care of him, ”Lance would laugh and say, ‘You’re going to your job, Mom,”’ she said. ”Finally Lance was getting along with his father when this happened,” she said.

After Clifford’s death, Lance confined himself to the ”two little rooms” he had at his parents’ house, she said. ”He didn’t eat, he didn’t sleep. He lost 20, 30 pounds. He got very thin.”

Police say Lance Ossman told them he shot Tattersall in a pulloff area of I-81 in Frailey Township after the trucker tailgated and flashed his lights at him.

He told them he was mentally ill and ”maybe a demon possessed me,” and asked them to ”get me the death penalty,” telling them, ”I don’t want to suffer.”

”I shouldn’t have had the gun with me,” an affidavit quotes Ossman as saying. ”He was behind me flashing the high beams. I flipped him the finger. I put my turn signal on ? it’s just a blur, I can’t believe this. He didn’t do anything.”

Tattersall was president and his wife, Anita, was secretary of GTX Transport Inc. of St. Laurent, Quebec, a 6-year-old company that specializes in hauling luxury vehicles such as Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches between Canada and the United States.

He was three days shy of his 55th birthday.

john.moser@mcall.com

610-379-3220

Reporter Bob Laylo contributed to this story.