June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Firing rage: Residents upset, fearful over spate of errant bullets

Elisa Kazek was reading a book on her living room couch. Her husband, Andrzej, sat near her, and her 16-year-old daughter was upstairs.

It was a normal Saturday afternoon, until a 9 mm bullet shattered the Kazeks’ living room window at 13231 Old Mill Road in Spencer Township.

This window on a Spencer Township home was shattered Sept. 28 when a 9 mm bullet hit it. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

No one was injured, but that didn’t stop the panic from setting in.

“We were right there in the room,” Elisa Kazek said. “I called 911 and I must’ve sounded like a little girl. I kept saying, ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’ ”

Police said the shooter was 38-year-old Joshua D. Hewlett, of Oberlin, who was firing a pistol at a plywood target from his friend’s lawn in the 6800 block of Firestone Road on Sept. 28. Hewlett’s friend also was shooting, police reported, but his guns didn’t fire 9 mm rounds like the one found in Kazek’s home.

The two houses are about 1,000 feet apart through some woods and open clearings.

Hewlett, who police said had completed gun safety classes to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon, was charged with disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor. He’s set for arraignment in Medina Municipal Court today.

Elisa Kazek, who lost a race for county commissioner last November against incumbent Steve Hambley, said her house getting hit was reminiscent of a January shooting in Montville Township. No one was injured in that incident either, but two houses were hit with bullets from an AK-47-like, semiautomatic assault rifle.

Police said Mark Bornino, of Montville Township, and R. Daniel Volpone, of Parma, were the ones responsible in Montville. The men were charged with felonies in Medina County Common Pleas Court because the bullets they fired passed over a public road before hitting the houses. They each received probation.

Similar cases are cropping up in Medina County, but county Prosecutor Dean Holman said many of them can’t be classified as felonies.

According to Ohio Revised Code, a shooting could become a felony if bullets passed over a “prohibited premises,” such as a cemetery or public road.

Holman said it can become a felony when a person possesses weapons while barred by a court from doing so, if someone is killed because of reckless discharge, or if someone purposely fired a gun into someone else’s house or hurt someone.

If someone is injured unintentionally, Holman said it likely would be a misdemeanor assault charge.

Holman said those laws are the only ones applicable to townships, but cities may have stricter ordinances.

“Townships’ powers are drawn from state laws,” he said. “Cities can pass resolutions and make ordinances, but townships don’t have the ability to pass those laws.”

Medina, Brunswick and Wadsworth police officers said their cities have laws making firing any weapon — including crossbows, air rifles, BB guns and paintball guns — a misdemeanor charge.

Wadsworth police Lt. Rob Wyrick said it’s not a very common charge within the city.

“We have just a handful a year it looks like,” he said.

The best way for target shooters to avoid problems is to know the capabilities of the weapon and the backstop, said Montville Township police Officer Travis McCourt, who serves as a firearms instructor for the department.

“Know what you’re shooting and know how far it can go when it free travels,” McCourt said. “The way Medina County has been growing, you can have a country road and then a development just pops up. It’s on the shooter to be aware.”

McCourt said the safest way to target practice is at a shooting range. Shooting range operators know the capabilities of their ranges and what weapons are safest to shoot there. If you live in a township and you’re going to shoot on your property near woods, McCourt encouraged people to take proper precautions.

He said he didn’t want to offer specifications on a backstop, because proper precautions vary depending on the type of weapon being used, the area and the slope of a yard and surrounding areas.

“We can’t really offer specific guidelines because it really varies depending on the location and type of weapon,” he said.

McCourt said the responsibility is on the target shooter to be informed about the safest way to discharge guns.

“Be aware of your backstop and what’s behind it,” he said. “Just because it looks like woods doesn’t mean there aren’t homes nearby.”

He said the saying “proper prior planning prevents poor performance” is good advice for target shooters.

Still, township residents suspecting their neighbors of irresponsible shooting appears to be a growing trend.

Hinckley Township police received a complaint this week from a man on Salem Court saying his home was struck with a bullet a week ago. He found the bullet on Sunday and reported it to police.

Late last month in Montville Township, a resident on Arlyne Lane reported gunshots behind her home. Police warned the target shooters to make sure they took proper precautions to avoid hitting homes.

And in August, a 41-year-old York Township woman said she and her family were on vacation and her neighbors alerted her that her home was being struck with skeet from another neighbor’s shotgun.

“We’ve had multiple incidences,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous fearing retaliation from her neighbor.

She said she’s alerted police, but they can’t do anything because she lives in a township and there was no visible damage.

“Police are telling us that until they hear it themselves or someone gets hurt, they can’t act on it,” she said. “Their hands are tied.”

It worries her, she said, because some townships in Medina County are becoming less rural and more urbanized — meaning more people and homes are around active shooters.

“Things change,” she said. “Laws need to change. You can’t wait until you have a death.”

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com. Reporter Loren Genson contributed.

Nick Glunt About Nick Glunt

Nick Glunt primarily covers courts and crime in Medina County. He served The Gazette from September 2012 to December 2015. Contact him at (330) 721-4048 or via email at nglunt@medina-gazette.com.