OLYMPIA — A teenager who accidentally shot a friend in the head was sentenced Tuesday to 60 days in jail.
Danial R. Coots, 19, of Olympia pleaded guilty in March to third-degree assault by negligence, sparing himself a potential 21-month prison term had he been convicted during a trial.
His attorney said he couldn’t understand why prosecutors filed
charges in a case that should have been regarded as a tragic accident.
On Feb. 8, 2005, Coots and a friend, David Nelson, then 19, were drinking alcohol about 1:30 a.m. while hanging out with another friend’s sister, then 16, at her home. They went into the girl’s bedroom so she could get cigarettes, and she showed them a 9 mm handgun that her parents had given her for protection. While handling it, Coots accidentally shot Nelson in the head.
Not a pellet gun
Coots had mistaken the weapon for an Airsoft pellet gun because he and Nelson had seen pellets on the floor just before she pulled out the gun.
The bullet passed through Nelson’s skull but he stayed conscious. He survived but lost hearing in one ear, sight in one eye, and has frequent migraines and mood swings that he can’t control, Nelson said. He also is leaking spinal fluid and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said Tuesday by telephone.
“I almost wish I would have died so I wouldn’t have to live in this hell,” Nelson said. “I’m pretty messed up in the head. I don’t think anybody is going to be able to fix me.”
Nelson did not attend the hearing in Thurston County Superior Court because he feared it would be too emotional for him. His mother, Donna Roush, appeared and spoke on his behalf.
Nelson, who once lived on his own, now stays with his father and has to visit doctors about four times a week.
Judge Richard Hicks followed the prosecutor’s recommendation on the two-month jail term, part of which can be completed with community service. Coots also has to undergo a substance-abuse evaluation because the case involved alcohol.
Both Coots and Nelson worked for Olympic Arms in Thurston County.
In his only remarks to the judge, Coots explained that he forges metal parts for guns and doesn’t handle weapons, and that’s why he was able to mistake the weapon for a pellet gun.
Coots’ attorney, Jim Dixon, called the case a “tragedy on top of a tragedy.” Initially, the sheriff’s detective told Dixon that there were no criminal violations, he said. The first few times prosecutors reviewed the case, they did not file charges, he added.
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