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Shooter remains at-large

GATESVILLE – What started as a verbal confrontation escalated into a barrage of gunfire near here Sunday afternoon.

One Gates County man is hospitalized suffering from numerous gunshot wounds while another is the target of a law enforcement manhunt that may spread to other states.

Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb said William Jason Payne, 26, of Eure is being sought in the shooting of Willie Earl Hathaway, 42, of Gatesville.

Webb stated his officers and officials with six other agencies nearly had Payne in their grasp Sunday evening, but darkness fell and he was not located in an area near Central Middle School on US 158.

“We tracked him for nearly three hours until it got too dark to see,” Webb said.

Payne’s information has been entered into a national criminal database, which Webb said would be helpful since the alleged shooter has family ties in New Jersey and New York.

“Mr. Payne is a wanted felon in this case,” Webb noted. “He is considered armed and dangerous.”

Webb said the confrontation between the two men began mid-Sunday afternoon with a verbal exchange on Carters Road.

“According to eyewitnesses and a statement from the victim, it was there that Mr. Payne retrieved a handgun from his vehicle and fired numerous times into the vehicle in which Mr. Hathaway was sitting,” Webb said. “Mr. Hathaway was struck several times by those bullets.”

Those witnesses told Webb they saw Payne leave in his vehicle after firing the shots. That vehicle, driven by a woman (unidentified by Webb) alleged to be Payne’s girlfriend, was stopped later on Sunday by Suffolk (Va.) Police. Payne was not in the vehicle.

“The girlfriend was transported back to Gates County where she cooperated with our line of questioning,” Webb said. “She told us the last time she saw Mr. Payne was at a residence near Central Middle School.”

With that information, law enforcement officers conducted a search, with the owner’s permission, of that residence. Payne was not located there.

“We were on our way back to the office when another call came in about a suspicious person seen in the backyard of a residence across the road from the middle school,” Webb said. “We went to that residence and, with the help of our K-9 unit and another from Chowan County, picked up on Mr. Payne’s trail, but after three hours of searching we came up with no suspect.”

Webb thanked officers with the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office, Chowan County Sheriff, NC Highway Patrol, NC Wildlife Commission, NC Park Service, Gates County Emergency Management, Gates County Water Dept. and local citizens for their help in the local manhunt.

Those with information on Payne’s possible whereabouts are urged to call the Gates County Sheriff’s Office at 357-0210.