Unicoi man accused of shooting neighbor in dispute over noise

Brad Hicks • Sep 5, 2012 at 1:30 PM

ERWIN — A Unicoi man was arrested Saturday for allegedly firing in the direction of neighbors that were too noisy for his liking, resulting in one of the neighbors being struck and sent to the emergency room for treatment.

James Ronnie Whitson, 62, 2321 Zane Whitson Drive, Unicoi was arrested Saturday evening and charged with four counts of felony reckless endangerment.

Unicoi County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Frank Rogers said deputies were called out to a residence at 2303 Zane Whitson Drive at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday after receiving a report that a subject was shooting at his neighbor.

Upon arrival, deputies spoke to one of the victims, identified as Tyler Jones, who advised that he and three of his friends, at least one of which was a juvenile, were at a bonfire on his property when they heard a gunshot and began to hear projectiles hitting their vehicles, Rogers said. Jones also reported that one of the projectiles struck him in the lower back, an injury that was observed by officers at the scene, according to Rogers.

Rogers said Jones was transported to the local emergency room for treatment of a non-life threatening injury and was later released.

Officials also made contact with another neighbor who told authorities he, too, heard the gunshot and saw Whitson with the firearm. Rogers said investigators conducted a consent search of Whitson's property and recovered a single-shot break action 20-gauge shotgun that showed signs of having recently been fired, as well as a recently discharged 3-inch number 5 shot shell cartridge.

"This shot is more than what you would just call a birdshot," Rogers said. "This is a number 5 shot, and it's commonly used for big-game hunting, like turkey or something like it. It's more than just something that would shoot small game with."

A gunshot residue test was conducted on Whitson's hands, which has been sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for further analysis, Rogers said.

Rogers said Whitson was also questioned at the scene, and told officers that he had fired a "warning shot" because of an ongoing dispute between him and his neighbors and that he was constantly being harassed due to his neighbors being too noisy.

"He said the reason why he did it is because he was being disturbed in his residence as he was trying to sleep," Rogers said. "He did admit to discharging the firearm."

When investigators asked Whitson why he did not fire the gun in the direction of a nearby field rather than toward his neighbors' residence if wanting to fire a warning shot, Whitson responded that he was "afraid of hitting cows that might be in the field," Rogers said.

"He did state he wasn't trying to kill these individuals," Rogers said. "He went on to say that if he was trying to kill them that he would have used a high-powered rifle, that his attempt was only to alarm them."

Whitson, who was arrested at the scene Saturday, has been released from the Unicoi County Jail on a $40,000 OR bond. He is scheduled to appear in Unicoi County General Sessions Court on Oct. 11.

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