Skip to comments.Laying down the law
Posted on 08/02/2003 11:25:58 AM PDT by Deadeye Division
Laying down the law
Fed up with crime, 67-year-old man fires on 3 engaged in
shootout in his front yard
BY STEVE REEVES
Of The Post and Courier Staff
The last time police came by his Tripe Street home to investigate complaints about drug dealing in the West Ashley neighborhood, William Gates made it clear to them that he had had enough.
"I told the police, 'Bring the coroner and body bags the next time you come out here,' " he said. "Nobody is going to run me out of my home."
The coroner and body bags weren't needed Friday morning because when Gates made good on his statement, he only wounded the men he shot. But it wasn't for lack of trying.
"I shot to kill," he said. "I'm not going to lie to you."
Roused from his sleep by the sound of gunfire about 4:30 a.m. Friday, the 67-year-old Gates took up his 12-gauge Browning automatic shotgun, stepped out onto his front porch and fired three blasts at men he said were drug dealers having a shootout in his front yard.
When the shooting stopped, three men lay wounded. Gates is said to have hit two of them, and the third is thought to have been hit during the initial shootout.
Gates, a semi-retired brick mason who drives a battered blue Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck with an airbrushed tag on the front bumper that says "Godfather," said Friday afternoon that he was only protecting his wife and house from what he describes as out-of-control neighborhood thugs in their teens and 20s who drink beer and sell and take drugs in his yard. He said gunshots fired near his house during drug-related disputes are a common occurrence.
"I had had enough," he said. "If I have to go to jail, so be it."
While police did not publicly approve of what Gates did, they filed no charges against him Friday.
"We have no plans to arrest him," Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg said. "We can't see from where we sit where a crime's been committed. People have the right to provide for their safety, and we believe that is what he was doing."
Greenberg said the decision on whether Gates will be charged will be made by the solicitor's office, a decision likely to come early next week. Meanwhile, Greenberg said police patrols in the neighborhood will be increased.
Gates was born in the house on Tripe Street. It was his parent's house, and they passed it on to him when they died.
Tripe Street was a good part of the neighborhood at one time, Gates said, but began going downhill fast about 10 years ago. The narrow, tree-lined street is home to many houses that have seen better times and, according to police, the area is a magnet for illegal activity, much of it drug related.
"Drugs, stealing, a little bit of everything," said Gates' wife, Yvonne.
She said that last year someone fired a shot through their living room. The bullet hole can be seen in the wall that faces the street.
"The good Lord was with me that day because I had just moved my grandbaby from that couch," Yvonne Gates said. "She would have been killed because the bullet hit the couch."
The Gateses' yard is littered with empty 32-ounce beer cans and other trash they say was put there by the young people who loiter in the area until the early hours of the morning.
William Gates' anger finally reached critical mass early Friday morning when he and his wife were awakened by the gunshots, which police say was likely the result of a dispute over drugs, outside their bedroom window.
Gates said he heard his wife yell and fall to the floor.
"I thought they shot my wife," he said. "I went and got my gun and fired three shots."
Investigators were trying to determine exactly who shot whom, but it is known that Kevin Hazel, 27, was found lying in the bushes in front of the Gateses' house. He had been shot in the back with a 9 mm pistol. Matez Hazel, 24, and Christopher Hampton, 22, both suffered shotgun wounds.
All three were in intensive care recovering from their wounds. Police said Friday they don't know yet whether the three men, all of whom previously have been in trouble with the law for drugs, will be charged with any crimes.
Police found a 9 mm handgun and three spent shell casings next to Matez Hazel, and said he had a small amount of marijuana wrapped in a $5 bill in his sock.
Gates, who is an avid hunter and proudly displays two large mounted deer heads among the photographs of children and grandchildren in his living room, had all seven of the guns he owns confiscated by the police until their investigation is complete. He vows that he will be ready if friends of the three men try to retaliate, and he smiled as he said he planned to acquire a gun to protect himself.
"They better make sure they get me if they come back, because if they don't get me, I'm going to kill all of them," Gates said. "I'm 67 and don't have that long to live anyway."
Gates said all he wants is peace and quiet and to be able to come home to his wife and not see drugs being sold in front of his house. He said he refuses to move.
"Why should I go?" he said. "I'd sooner be dead."