Police: Salvation Army bell ringer, high on PCP, assaults shopper at Maryland Walmart

GERMANTOWN, Md. (WJLA) – A Salvation Army bell ringer is likely to face criminal charges after he allegedly ingested PCP and assaulted a customer in the parking lot of a Montgomery County big-box store.

The incident, which drew a sizable crowd of curious onlookers, happened around 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Walmart along Frederick Road in Germantown.

Montgomery County Police said they were dispatched to the store after bell ringer David Kelley, 40, stopped collecting donations and began to huff and lick a vial that appeared to contain an oil of some sort.

A 44-year-old male customer attempted to corral Kelley but got clocked twice in the face with a closed fist. Those forceful, unexpected blows caused a small cut to the customer’s cheek.

Kelley later started to roll around on the cold parking lot pavement while declaring, “I am John Wayne!” As officers arrived on scene, Kelley thrust his pelvis in a sexual manner and stated, “Ladies.” Two officers deployed their Tasers, but were unsuccessful in subduing Kelley as he was wearing multiple layers of clothing. Those officers resorted to tackling the incensed bell ringer.

Medics took Kelley to the hospital for observation. An officer who handled the vial of PCP also needed to be hospitalized for exposure to the powerful drug. Law enforcement sources said PCP has a distinct scent. Kelley’s vial, however, contained an oil solution that masked the odor of PCP, making it particularly dangerous.

Reached by telephone Monday, the Salvation Army told ABC7 it had been under the impression that Kelley suffered a “medical incident.” In fact, the 40-year-old returned to his red kettle duties on Friday, two days after the alleged violent escapade outside of Walmart.

“We were told that he had a new medication from his doctor, and that rendered him to be out of sorts,” said Ken Forsythe, communications and marketing manager for Salvation Army National Capital Area Command.

Yet, in light of the new information regarding alleged PCP usage, the Salvation Army made the decision to temporarily take Kelley off the schedule in effort to protect the public.

“Apparently he had been doing a really good job with [bell ringing] prior to whatever happened last week,” Forsythe said. “Our prayers are with [Mr. Kelley], and we hope he gets whatever help he needs.”

Forsythe said that while the majority of D.C.-area bell ringers are volunteers, a few dozen are hired each holiday season to cover gaps at various red kettle donation sites. Those jobs, which tend to pay minimum wage, typically go to people in need. Kelley, for example, had told the Salvation Army that he was having trouble paying for his prescription medication.

“If we’re going to pay somebody, we want to pay somebody who really needs the money,” Forsythe said.

Kelley lives in a condo along Churchill Ridge Circle in Germantown. No one answered the front door Monday, but multiple neighbors said the now suspended bell ringer causes trouble in the community.

“His girlfriend is always shouting that he hurts her and stuff,” one female neighbor said. “And he’s always hanging with a group of sketchy guys out front. He’s no good.”

According to court records, Kelley has previous convictions for crimes including drug possession with the intent to distribute, second-degree assault and disorderly conduct.

Police have not filed formal criminal charges against Kelley in the PCP matter, but sources make clear that they plan to. In addition to the numerous eyewitnesses who recorded Kelley’s antics on their cell phone, Walmart surveillance cameras captured other portions. Those visuals will become crucial pieces of evidence as the case moves forward.

“We have a long history of supporting the Salvation Army, and regret this isolated incident,” said Casey Staheli, a spokesman for Walmart, which is based in Bentonville, Arkansas.

The Salvation Army hopes to raise $1.5 million in the D.C. area during its red kettle campaign this holiday season. The non-profit agency says every dime will remain in the community. Last year it assisted more than 83,000 people through a variety of social services.