John Hinckley Jr., soon to be free 35 years after shooting President Ronald Reagan, has a major connection to Dayton — he was accused of stalking President Jimmy Carter here the year before the Reagan shooting.
As part of Hinckley’s trial, prosecutors offered video showing that months before he shot Reagan, Hinckley was less than six feet from President Jimmy Carter at a campaign event in Dayton Oct. 2, 1980.
They offered the Dayton information as part of a pattern, adding that one week later, Hinckley was arrested on a weapons charge in Nashville, Tenn., the same day Carter was campaigning there.
But at the time of those 1980 campaign events, authorities didn’t know who Hinckley was.
Traffic reporter Sgt. Mark Bowron with AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO, a retired Dayton police detective, was on the security detail the day Carter was in Dayton for an event at the Convention Center.
“There was a huge investigation into John Hinckley (after the shooting),” Bowron said. “They actually checked out pictures that had been snapped of that (Dayton) event and found that Hinckley was in the crowd, very close to the front.
“When that information came out, we were all really stunned by that,” said Bowron, who described working security detail for multiple presidential visits. “It’s always very nerve-wracking. It’s a lot of boredom followed by a few minutes of extreme nervousness — just hoping that nothing happens where you’re at. When I heard that Hinckley was actually in Dayton, Ohio right before the election, it was a pretty scary thing.”
The Dayton Daily News reported in 1982 that Hinckley had checked into the Sheraton Dayton hotel on South Jefferson Street (near what is now the Wright Stop RTA hub) two days before Carter’s appearance at the Convention Center a block to the south.
He stood out so little to hotel employees that then-manager Charles Kronke told the newspaper they didn’t even recognize his picture months later when he shot Reagan.
The news report said the FBI tracked Hinckley’s trip to Dayton via his traveler’s checks. Hotel records showed Hinckley registered under his real name and listed himself as a writer from Lubbock, Texas. The Dayton Daily News article said he requested a room with a view of the Convention Center and was given room 818, for which he paid $35.52.
Hinckley shot Reagan, James Brady and two law enforcement officers March 30, 1981, in Washington in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley, 61, has spent 35 years in a mental hospital, gradually getting to spend more and more time at his mother’s home. A judge ruled Wednesday that he can make that move permanent after Aug. 5.