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BELLE MEADE, Tenn. - A Nashville man accused of using a hatchet to kill the gym owner who fired him last year has been caught by troopers with the Kentucky State Police, authorities said.
Domenic Micheli, 36, was arrested Tuesday night in Bowling Green after an alert motorist on Interstate 65 recognized the Toyota Prius the fugitive was driving, the Tennessean reported. Micheli had been on the run since the slaying of Joel Paavola, 46, early Monday morning.
“Due to the media coverage of out Nashville, the caller was able to ID the car and the subject,” Lt. Jeremy Smith, a Kentucky State Police spokesman, told the newspaper.
Troopers were able to catch up with Micheli and pull him over about 25 minutes after the call from the motorist. Micheli was arrested without incident.
Metro Nashville police officials said that Paavola, the well-known owner of Balance Training, in Belle Meade, was helping clients with a workout routine just before 7 a.m. Monday when a man, later identified as Micheli, walked in with a hatchet and another bladed weapon, described as either another hatchet or a large knife.
Paavola fired Micheli from his job at the gym 14 months ago, the Tennessean reported.
Witnesses told police that Micheli struck Paavola with the weapons multiple times before leaving, police officials said in a statement. Paavola died on the way to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“Just a senseless, brutal, violent attack this morning on Mr. Paavola as he was there in the business,” Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron told the Tennessean Monday.
Surveillance footage from the parking garage underneath the strip mall where the gym is located showed that Micheli was driving an older model silver Yaris or Prius, the police statement said. The Tennessean reported that the footage showed Micheli pacing in the garage before the attack on Paavola.
This picture more closely resembles what Domenic Micheli looks like now. He was last seen driving this older model Toyota Yaris. Murder warrant being drafted. See Micheli or the car? 615-862-8600. pic.twitter.com/74u3YwNtpv— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) June 4, 2018
The suspect was next spotted less than 90 minutes after the attack at a Gallatin urgent care facility, where he limped in and asked for a suture kit, the newspaper reported. He refused to wait or provide his personal information and left.
Surveillance footage obtained by investigators next showed Micheli around 9:15 a.m. Monday, approaching the counter of a drugstore in Gallatin, which is about 35 miles northeast of Belle Meade. In the video, he appears to be purchasing first aid items.
At one point, he is seen examining his clothing and his arms.
Before Micheli’s arrest, investigators were searching for him as far away as Oregon and Washington, D.C., where he was known to have previously spent time. Metro Nashville police officials said Monday that Micheli was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service on April 27 for driving his car to a checkpoint near the White House and refusing to move it.
The MNPD continues to urge citizens in this region to be on the lookout for accused murderer Domenic Micheli. Detectives learned this morning that he went to a Gallatin urgent care Mon morning (photos below). He was limping from a left leg injury. See Micheli? 615-862-8600 pic.twitter.com/iOjZJagcFE— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) June 5, 2018
A GoFundMe page set up to help Paavola’s family collected more than double its $75,000 goal in one day. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had amassed close to $200,000.
“Joel Paavola was a phenomenal man, father, husband and role model,” the fundraising page read. “He was bright, happy-go-lucky and never ceased to make you smile.”
The fundraising team said that Paavola always prioritized his wife and five children, who “were the most important and loved people in his life.”
“He always put his family first, and we want that to carry on after his unfortunate passing,” the page read.
Tyson Ford, a family friend who created the page, told the Tennessean that he grew up with Paavola’s oldest son. He said the trainer was a father figure to him.
“He took in a lot of his children’s friends,” Ford, 23, told the newspaper. “You just knew you could count on him. It was humbling to feel that from someone else.”
Ford said the goal of fundraisers was to “wrap (their) arms around (the family).”
Christina Burks, a former Nashville resident, told the Tennessean that she felt compelled to donate to the cause.
“He was more than a trainer. He was one of my best friends in Nashville,” Burks, 30, told the newspaper. “He was there for me when my grandmother passed away and when my now-husband and I started dating.
“I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Belle Meade, which gets its name from Belle Meade Plantation, has the highest per capita income in Tennessee and one of the highest in the nation. It was named by Forbes as one of the 25 top places to retire rich.
Former Vice President Al Gore is just one of the prominent residents of the city.