O'FALLON, MO. • No charges will be filed against a 65-year-old grandfather who shot a motorcyclist in a road rage incident last month.
St. Charles County prosecutor Jack Banas said that under Missouri's so-called castle doctrine law, the grandfather was justified in using potentially deadly force because the motorcyclist reached into the grandfather's car and punched him.
The motorcyclist was shot in the upper left chest and is recovering, authorities said.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which seat you are in, under Missouri law, if you are in your house or in your vehicle, you can use deadly force to defend yourself against unlawful force," Banas said Monday.
A person must reasonably believe the deadly force is necessary to defend oneself and the unlawful force in this case was the punch, he explained.
Brian Malte, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said such laws force people to make difficult decisions for themselves and shoot first, ask questions later.
"More guns in the hands of more people in the public arena is a recipe for disaster," Malte said.
Tim Oliver, a former police officer and director of Learn to Carry, a company that does firearms training and consulting, agrees with Banas' decision.
"I think justice has occurred," he said. "As soon as that blast went off and he was hit on the chest, he probably thought, 'I picked on the wrong old man.'"
The incident happened the afternoon of May 26. Authorities refused to release the names of those involved. The motorcyclist, 49, of St. Ann, was riding with his wife on separate bikes, and the grandfather, of O'Fallon, Mo., was driving with his wife and 9-year-old grandson in a Mazda 6 sedan. The motorcyclist thought the grandfather cut his wife off and the grandfather thought he was cut off while turning onto Bryan Road at the Interstate 70 west exit.
The turning lanes are confusing at that exit, and it would be easy to be mistaken about who cut whom off, said Banas, but it does appear the motorcyclists, who were not familiar with the exit, were in the wrong lane. The grandfather yelled at the motorcyclists, and they began arguing.
When the male motorcyclist approached the grandfather's car on foot, the grandfather took his semiautomatic .380-caliber handgun out of his glove box and placed it in his lap, Banas said. They continued arguing, and the grandfather said the motorcyclist spit at him and he may have spit back. After that, the motorcyclist punched the grandfather in the face, and the grandfather then fired one shot at the motorcyclist, Banas said.
The motorcyclist admitted to police he walked up to the grandfather and they exchanged words, and when he was turning to leave, he said the grandfather spit at him so he punched him, and then he realized he was shot, Banas said.
He told police he did not see the gun as he approached the car, Banas said. The grandmother and the grandson said the motorcyclist spit at the grandfather first, and the grandfather spit back and then got punched, Banas said. Witnesses said they saw the motorcyclist punch the grandfather but couldn't give details about the spitting, Banas said.
After the incident, the grandfather dropped off his wife and grandson at home before driving to the O'Fallon police station and telling them what happened.
The expanded castle doctrine law, passed in 2007, includes intrusions into vehicles and other property as well as someone's home.
Shootings that involve the doctrine or other self-defense laws are not that uncommon. There were seven such fatal shootings in St. Louis alone last year, compared with two in 2010.
Earlier this year in St. Charles County, a homeowner fatally shot a man who broke into his Dardenne Prairie residence and attacked his wife. Banas said that shooting was justified.
In the more recent case, Banas said he also has decided not to press charges against the motorcyclist for throwing the punch.
"The man should be more careful," Banas said. "Just like the general public should know, there are a lot of people who lawfully carry firearms in their cars."
Attorney Scott Rosenblum, who advised the motorcyclist, said: "Of course, nobody wants to be charged with a crime, but he was the one who was hurt. Obviously, he thinks there was a little bit of overreacting."
Kevin Jamison, an attorney from Gladstone, Mo., who lobbied for Missouri's castle doctrine bill as a member of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance, said other motorists should take heed.
"If somebody cuts you off on the road, thank God they didn't kill you and move on," he said. "It astonishes me that people want to take a bad situation and make it worse."
Cape Girardeau County prosecutor Morley Swingle, who served on the Missouri Supreme Court committee that wrote jury instructions for the self-defense law, said the lesson to be learned is it's easy to lose your temper in a road rage situation.
"You never know if the person if the car might have a gun," Swingle said. "Just keep your cool."