Akron police arrest suspect in McDonald’s shooting

By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Johnnl Lanier Lewis has been charged in the shooting of an Akron McDonald's worker.

Akron police have arrested a suspect in the fatal shooting of a McDonald’s worker during a robbery attempt this month.

Johnnl Lanier Lewis, 21, was charged Tuesday night with murder and aggravated robbery. He was being held in the Summit County Jail pending an initial court appearance.

Lewis, who lives in Akron and was awaiting trial in an unrelated assault case, is accused of shooting John Lehman, 28. Police said Lehman was shot in the torso late April 6 while taking out garbage from the restaurant at 390 W. Market St.

James Lehman, the uncle of the victim, and Terry Zimmerman, Lehman’s former foster father, expressed the family’s gratitude to police and the public, who supplied information to detectives leading to Lewis’ arrest.

They also thanked the Highland Square community for its outpouring of support following Lehman’s slaying. Lehman was known as a peaceful, free spirit, who often walked around Highland Square playing his guitar and singing. He was known to many who live and work in the area.

“It’s all very touching and moving,” Zimmerman said. “It’s been just amazing and goes to show how everyone knew John and how many really cared about him.”

Police Lt. Rick Edwards said Lewis intended to rob the McDonald’s restaurant when he pulled an SUV into the parking lot about 11 p.m.

Lehman’s family said they were told that Lehman walked out a rear door of the restaurant with a bag of trash and was met by an armed robber. The door slammed behind Lehman and he was shot. The gunman then fled.

James Lehman believes his nephew, despite his slender build and nonconfrontational demeanor, saved others from possibly being injured.

“Hearing that he sacrificed himself to possibly save the lives of other people, that’s very significant,” James Lehman said. “Obviously, the loss of his life is something we will never get over. But to know he did what he thought was the right thing to do, to protect his co-workers, I think is absolutely amazing.”

Lehman’s death touched many in the Highland Square neighborhood where he lived on Crosby Street in a low-income public housing complex.

After his death, there were several tributes organized in Lehman’s memory. Several dozen friends held a candlelight prayer vigil. Police and McDonald’s combined to offer a $10,000 reward for the identity of the shooter. The McDonald’s where Lehman worked for 10 years closed for a period to honor Lehman, and other businesses in the neighborhood posted signs out of respect for the Lehman family.

Edwards said the publicity and tributes to Lehman’s life sparked multiple people to provide information about the shooting to develop Lewis as a suspect. He said he was unsure how the reward money would be distributed.

Police Chief James Nice credited the public for its help in identifying Lewis as a suspect and supplying the information to detectives.

“The police cannot solve all crimes on their own. Crime solving often depends on the community’s dedicated involvement,” Nice said. “This is a great example of how our community policing efforts are working to bridge the gap between safety forces and the public.”

At the time of the shooting, Lewis was free on bond while awaiting trial on a felonious-assault charge in Cuyahoga Falls that dates back to September. According to reports, Lewis is accused of punching a man in the face while the two were waiting in a line at another McDonald’s restaurant.

Lewis’ attorney, Walter Benson of Akron, said it’s too early in the process to comment on the murder charge.

Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or ptrexler@thebeaconjournal.com. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PhilTrexler.

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