Northland News

Police, schools launch effort to stem celebratory gunfire on Jan. 1

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Area law enforcement and education officials are reminding residents it's "RING" in the New Year, not "shoot."

A few ticks past midnight every Jan. 1 bring a fusillade of gunfire into the air throughout Columbus and the world.

It's dumb and it's dangerous, and Columbus has a local example of just how tragic celebratory gunfire can be.

This year, in an effort at preventing history from repeating itself, officials with the Columbus Division of Police and Columbus City Schools personnel have created a website aimed at raising awareness of the issue among the general public.

"We just wanted to make more people aware of and kind of begin to tackle this," Deputy Chief of Police Kenneth Kuebler said.

Two local New Year's morning examples of just how troublesome celebratory gunfire can be helped spur officials to launch www.columbuspolice.org/nye/.

The first and most tragic was the Jan. 1, 2005, accidental shooting of 16-year-old Angela Hughes and her mother, Phyllis Sanders, as they were baking in the kitchen of their Oakwood Avenue home.

The bullet that struck Sanders came to rest scant inches from her heart, but she survived.

Angela was not so fortunate.

The bullet fired by a neighbor from his rifle into the air at 3:20 a.m. that cold morning struck her in the head. She died three days later

The neighbor, Damion Hayes, who admitted to police that he had fired the fatal round, was sentenced to eight years in prison in November 2005.

In a Columbus Dispatch story, Hayes is quoted as telling Sanders in court during his sentencing following a plea agreement, "I'm sorry I made you and your family experience this."

"I want our citizens to understand that it happened here and it could happen again," Kuebler said.

Similar examples, some involving deaths and other serious injuries, abound.

In 2008, when Kuebler was a patrol lieutenant, the New Year ushered in no fewer than three officer-involved shootings as a result of people celebrating with gunfire.

"It was kind of a wakeup call," Kuebler said. "You don't want to shoot someone who's just celebrating.

"It's one thing to shoot a bank robber; it's another to shoot some drunk neighbor who's just shooting a gun in the air," he said.

"Bullets fired into the air usually fall back at terminal velocity, speeds much lower than those at which they leave the barrel of a firearm," a pamphlet on the Division's special website states.

"Nevertheless, people can be injured, sometimes fatally, when bullets discharged into the air fall back down," the pamphlet states.

Bullets fired other than exactly vertical are even more dangerous, because the bullet maintains its angular ballistic trajectory, is far less likely to engage in a tumbling motion and travels at a speed much higher than its terminal velocity would be in a vertical fall, according to the pamphlet.

The site also states that a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 80 percent of injuries resulting from celebratory gunfire are to the head, feet and shoulders of victims.

"One of the things we play out, it isn't just dangerous for our citizens because of the obvious," Kuebler said.

"It also slows our response to other incidents. It isn't just about the falling bullets."

Discharging firearms in the city of Columbus is illegal.

Doing so after consuming alcohol, Kuebler pointed out, is doubly unwise.

"Mixing alcohol and guns just isn't a good idea," he said.

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