Suspect 3rd to face murder charge in school’s ’89 class

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — Comstock High School has produced doctors, lawyers and scientists.


But the arrest of Jason Dalton for allegedly killing six people during a shooting spree last week has given the school a more ignoble claim.

Dalton, 45, is the third member of Comstock’s class of 1989 to be charged with murder.

In another development, Dalton’s wife has filed for divorce, said a clerk with the Kalamazoo County Circuit Court. Carole Dalton filed the paperwork Thursday, said the clerk.

Earlier, Carole Dalton’s attorney, Paul Vlachos, denied news reports that the couple had been estranged or experienced financial problems.

The reason for the rampage isn’t known, said police.

As for the Comstock High Class of 1989, among the 150 graduates were John Kovach, who is in prison for killing his wife, and Theresa Petto, who will be tried for allegedly killing a woman who was dating Petto’s ex-boyfriend, according to court records.

Other members of the 1989 class were shocked at the coincidence but defended Comstock.

“We’re a proud school,” said Shelly Wilson, a 1989 graduate who lives in Hell. “Nobody knows what or why these things happen.”

She said the school should be known more for its high quality of teachers.

School officials said the macabre coincidence shouldn’t be a reflection of Comstock’s students.

The school has sent a steady stream of graduates to Michigan colleges, and some to Princeton and Harvard, said Todd Mora, superintendent of Comstock Public Schools.

“Comstock High School has been and will be a district where students prepare to make the world a better place,” Mora said in a statement.

He said the school and community are focused on supporting the victims of the Feb. 20 shooting rampage.

“We will all work towards helping Kalamazoo heal and remain strong with Comstock pride!” read the statement.

In the other cases, Petto, 44, was allegedly angry with Rachel Drafta for dating Petto’s ex-boyfriend, said Portage police.

Petto allegedly shot Drafta, 25, in the driveway of the victim’s parents home in Portage, said police. Drafta died two days after the June shooting.

Petto, who is charged with open murder and felony murder, is scheduled to be tried in April in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, according to court records.

Petto was judged mentally competent to stand trial at a hearing last month.


As for the third 1989 graduate, Kovach pleaded guilty in 2013 to second-degree murder and possession of a firearm.

He shot his wife, Nancy, in their Comstock Township home that year, said police. The couple’s two children, ages 10 and 8, were in the home at the time.

Kovach, 45, was sentenced to 18 to 30 years on the murder charge and two years for the firearms count, according to court records.

In the latest case involving a 1989 graduate, Dalton is accused of shooting eight people in three incidents over a five-hour period.

Six victims died: Richard Smith and his son Tyler, 17; Mary Jo Nye, 60; Dorothy “Judy” Brown, 74, and Barbara Hawthorne, 68, all of Battle Creek, and Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda.

A woman is in stable condition and Abigail Kopf, 14, of Battle Creek is in critical condition at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo.

Dalton, a driver for Uber, inexplicably picked up, but didn’t harm, customers during the shooting spree, said police.

He allegedly confessed to the shootings but didn’t give a reason for them, authorities said.

Dalton, who faces 16 charges, including six counts of open murder, is in the Kalamazoo County Jail. A preliminary exam conference is scheduled for Thursday in Kalamazoo District Court.

Meanwhile, a private funeral was held Friday for Judy Brown while funerals and memorials for the other five victims will be held Saturday and Sunday.

The Saturday service for Richard Smith and his son, Tyler, will include a balloon launch and a 10-mile procession from Mattawan village to Kalamazoo. The procession will be led by Richard Smith’s motorcycle group.

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell