Officials urge firearms safety

3 accidental deaths in EBR last month

Local law enforcement officials are stressing firearms safety after a string of accidental shootings last month they say could have been averted.

Three victims were fatally shot by unintentional discharges in East Baton Rouge Parish, prompting authorities to issue a public health alert Wednesday urging parents and gun owners to take common-sense safety measures around firearms. Baton Rouge police cited careless handling of a firearm in each of the cases.

“If you choose to own a firearm, there’s a tremendous responsibility that comes along with owning that firearm,” Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said at a morning news conference in the Metro Council chambers. “You should be able to safely and proficiently use that weapon, but you should keep that weapon in a safe place.”

Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said the three cases in January exceeded the number of unintentional fatal shootings his office handled last year. Three young men — one in each case — have been booked on counts of negligent homicide.

“Any time someone dies tragically as a result of negligence from firearms, there are always two victims,” Clark said. “There is the apparent victim and the one who caused it.

“We urge you to please help us prevent any further tragedies in our community.”

Authorities urged gun owners to ensure their firearms are always locked away in a secure area.

Gautreaux, who described himself as an avid sportsman, said he has one safe for his weapons and a separate safe for ammunition.

Clark said adults should supervise minors around firearms; treat every gun like it is loaded; never point a gun at “anything you’re not willing to destroy”; and keep their finger off the trigger until ready to fire.

While the news conference was largely intended to raise awareness among parents, District Attorney Hillar Moore III said there is no evidence in any of the recent cases that a parent was criminally negligent. Moore asked residents to look out for youngsters carrying firearms, and to report anyone underage seen carrying one.

Mayor-President Kip Holden said, “Each day you put it off increases the chances of another incident occurring that will take the life of somebody needlessly.”

Police Chief Dewayne White also attended the news conference, which was held just hours before news of his termination surfaced.

“We can’t go into the homes and control the use and the handling of guns of persons who are in lawful control of those guns,” White said. “So you have to use some degree of common sense because children are curious.”

The three Baton Rouge shooting deaths happened within a week, coming about a month after Christian Crain, 13, was accidentally shot in the head and killed in Ascension Parish. In that case, sheriff’s deputies arrested a 14-year-old boy accused of playing with a stolen .38 special revolver after smoking marijuana — and several adults — inside a mobile home at 14269 Oak Meadow St. in Prairieville.

In Baton Rouge, a shooting on Jan. 21 claimed the life of 2-year-old Travin Varise. Terrance Varise, 18, had been playing with a handgun when it fired and struck his brother in the chest as he walked into the room at their Jean Street home, police have said.

Terrance Varise, a convicted felon, was booked on counts of negligent homicide and felon in possession of a firearm.

A 16-year-old boy — whom authorities identified Wednesday by the initials “T.T.” — surrendered to authorities in the Jan. 26 shooting death of 18-year-old Marcus Williams. Police have said Williams was shot in the back while the two were playing with a gun at a house on North 24th Street.

Last week, 19-year-old Tyler Washington was booked on negligent homicide in the Jan. 20 shooting death of his cousin, 18-year-old Trevon Wilson. That shooting happened after 2 a.m. at a home on Main Street, police have said.

Washington, in a telephone interview Wednesday, said he had been hanging out with friends when one of them took his .22-caliber handgun without his knowledge or permission. When Washington walked into the home, he said, he took the handgun back but was unaware it had been cocked.

“It was on my lap and it discharged,” Washington said. “It just went off.”

Washington, a first-year medical training student, said he held his cousin and sought to slow the bleeding while others in the room stood in shock. He said the group rushed Wilson to a hospital, but it was too late. Wilson died of a single gunshot wound, police have said.

Washington’s father, Le’Moine Washington, said his son owned a firearm for self-defense.

“He was working late nights,” he said. “The climate of the city sometimes can put you in predicaments where you do have to have self-defense.”

Tyler Washington, who is free on bond, faces possible prison time in Wilson’s death. But Le’Moine Washington said his son is already burdened with the loss of a close family member.

“As long as he’s alive, this is going to be his punishment,” he said.