From the very beginning, there was something fishy about the hitchhiker’s story.
Ray Dolin of Julian, W.Va. claimed to be traveling across America documenting the kindness of strangers when a stranger in a pick-up truck pulled up alongside him on a rural road in Montana last Saturday and opened fire, shooting him in the arm. The incident -- man writing a book about kindness becomes victim of random violence -- fueled headlines nationwide.
Authorities, though, had their reservations.
“I had a hard time believing someone would do that in the state of Montana,” Chief Glen Meyer of the Valley County Sheriff’s Department told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. “Things were just not adding up.”
But at the same time, Dolin’s level of details -- the gunman was driving a maroon pick-up truck with a large white tool-box in the back -- matched the description of a man in the area who had a history of violence, and was allegedly driving under the influence when he was stopped.
That man, Lloyd Christopher Danielson III, 52, a Washington state resident living in Montana to work the oil fields, was arrested by authorities. He was released after they searched his vehicle and failed to come up with any evidence against him.
That’s when law enforcement officials, including the FBI, began honing in on their growing suspicions that Dolin’s story was a fabrication. Dolin continued to cling to his tale from the hospital where he was undergoing treatment. But late Thursday night, he crumpled under questioning.
“We confronted him,” Meyer said. “He admitted it.”
Meyer said it will be up to prosecutors to decide whether Dolin will face charges. He said he had no opinion on the matter. He also declined to discuss other details surrounding the case, including questions about Dolin’s motive, or the whereabouts of the weapon involved in the shooting.
The lawman said a news conference scheduled Monday in conjunction with the FBI would seek to resolve many of the questions surrounding the case.
But the sheriff was willing to talk about this: his sympathy for Danielson.
“I just feel sorry for the guy,” Meyer said. “We ripped his life apart for about a week. He was sitting in jail accused of shooting someone. That had to be terrible.”
The sheriff said Danielson’s fate was further complicated because he was arrested in a neighboring county while driving under the influence. That meant that, even though Danielson was let go by the Valley County sheriff’s department, he still had to be transported back to the neighboring county to face the DUI charge.
Meanwhile, Danielson’s truck was back in Valley County, where it had been impounded as part of the shooting investigation.
The sheriff said that when he learned that Danielson would be released from custody today pending the DUI charge, he decided to send an officer to collect Danielson and give him a ride back to his truck.
“I kind of thought that was the least we could do for the fellow,” he said.
Danielson was just in the wrong place at the wrong time -- but with the right kind of truck.
“It was not his day to buy a lottery ticket,” Meyer said. “He was very unlucky.”