By Dave Rogers
---- — ROWLEY — Road rage is the likely cause of an altercation Friday night outside a Route 1 business that saw a local man point a loaded handgun at another driver before fleeing the scene in his van, according to local police.
William Matthew Kotowski Jr., 48, was arrested a short time later outside his Bennett Hill home and charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of improperly storing a handgun.
Following his arrest, Kotowski’s wife, 45-year-old Joanna Kotowski, was issued a summons on charges of assault and battery and disorderly conduct after confronting the alleged victim inside the Tobacco Shack on Route 1.
William Kotowski Jr. was arraigned yesterday in Newburyport District Court and is free on $5,000 cash bail. He is expected back in court on Jan. 4 for a pretrial hearing. As part of his bail conditions, Judge Peter Doyle ordered Kotowski to surrender all firearms, suspended his license to carry firearms, ordered him to surrender his firearms identification card, to stay away and have no contact with the victim and not to enter the Tobacco Shack.
If found guilty of the most serious charge, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, Kotowski could be sentenced to 10 years in state prison or 2 1/2 years in a house of correction and a fine of up to $5,000.
Rowley police Chief Robert Barker said police are still investigating whether there is any connection between the victim and the suspect or the victim and Joanna Kotowski, but at this point the incident appears to be random.
“If both of them had guns, I’m afraid there would have been a shooting,” Barker said, referring to the victim and William Kotowski Jr.
According to the police report of Rowley police Sgt. Stephen W. May, William Kotowski and his wife had just eaten dinner at a Danvers restaurant and were traveling north in separate cars around 6:30 p.m. when the victim drove up behind them while traveling through Topsfield. Kotowski accused the victim of driving too close to his wife’s car and then passing her on the right so that the victim was in between his van and his wife’s car.
The victim then took a left at the Tobacco Shack near the corner of Routes 1 and 133. Angered by his alleged aggressive driving, police said William Kotowski turned around and entered the parking lot where he encountered the man. His wife soon followed. The man allegedly walked right up to William Kotowski’s van and began screaming at him while waving his arms. Fearing for his safety, Kotowski told police he drew his handgun and placed it in his lap. The man told police that Kotowski not only drew his weapon, but aimed it right at his face, according to police.
Following the altercation, William Kotowski left the scene in his van and drove to his house. As May approached the residence, Rowley police Officer David MacMullen contacted Kotowski via cell phone and ordered him to exit his house unarmed where he would be met by May. Drawing his weapon, May ordered Kotowski to walk backward to the center of the yard and kneel down. May then handcuffed the suspect and placed him in the back of his cruiser.
A search of the suspect’s house uncovered a Mossberg 20-gauge shotgun on the floor of a closet and .380 Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handgun. The handgun used in the alleged assault, a Walther 9mm semi-automatic handgun, was found in a kitchen counter, according to May’s report.
Following her husband’s arrest, Joanna Kotowski, who had arrived at their house during the arrest, became so enraged that the other driver also wasn’t arrested that she drove back to the Tobacco Shack and confronted him, leading to the charges against her. The man was not charged, according to Barker.
Barker said Friday’s incident highlights how road rage can almost instantaneously boil over to the point where people’s lives are threatened, if not worse. Should someone encounter an aggressive driver, Barker said to avoid confrontation at all costs and call police instead.
‘If you have a problem, call police. That’s what we’re here for,” Barker said.