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Blank Gun Kills Boy Rehearsing School Play

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - A father says his son died from a shot in the head from a .38 Smith & Wesson pistol loaded with blanks, used for sound effects for a high school production of "Oklahoma!" The dad says the gun had been "altered from its factory specifications to give it a 'hair trigger,'" and his son died from a "blowback" wound that drove fragments of his skull into his brain.

Ron Thayer says his son, Tucker, died after the gun "was discharged near Tucker's head" in the sound effects booth, during the fall term of 2008. He was 15.

Thayer sued the Washington County School District, the City of St. George, and four individuals: the theater teacher, Michael Eaton; the St. George policeman who worked as school resource officer, Stacy Richan; the parent who loaned the gun to Desert Hills High School, David Amodt; and Robert Goulding, apparently a school administrator, an assistant principal, in Federal Court.

Thayer says Desert Hills High School officials approved use of the six-shot pistol to add "a sense of realism and drama" to the production, and let the stage manager, a student, carry her father's gun and blank ammunition to school in her backpack.

The school/police resource officer "told her that so long as the gun stayed inside the backpack, she did not have to check in at the office," and the gun was "left, in its lock box, unattended in the sound booth," according to the complaint.

"Instead of having an adult shoot the gun, Tucker was allowed to shoot the gun during the last two weeks of rehearsals leading to the opening of the play and during each of the performances of the play."

The gun had been "altered from its factory specifications to give it a 'hair trigger.' reducing by half the amount of force required to pull the trigger," Thayer says. "The modifications of the gun caused it to sometimes jam when the double action trigger pull was used to fire the gun."

Thayer claims that "nobody from the District or SGPD taught the students the dangers associated with the blanks that would be fired from the gun," and that each of the four individual defendants "failed to implement and enforce any rules governing the handling and use of the gun."

Thayer claims that three blanks were reported missing a few days before the Nov. 15 show, and that David Amodt brought three more blanks to school. "No adult followed up to investigate what happened to the missing blanks," he says.

"After overhearing a conversation between Tucker and another student in the sound booth, an adult became concerned that Tucker might be planning a practical joke with the gun, such as firing the gun at an inappropriate point in the play," the complaint state. "However, nothing was said to Tucker, and the gun was left in the sound booth without adult supervision.

"Soon thereafter, the gun was discharged near Tucker's head.

"No adult was present in the sound booth when the gun discharged. ...

"The muzzle blast from the live blank drove skull fragments into Tucker's brain. In addition a 'blowback' wound of approximately three inches in diameter was formed as the result of gases produced by the explosion of the gun powder exiting from the same hole they entered after being driven into Tucker's brain.

"Tucker died later that night."

Thayer adds: "(D)espite the 'Safe Schools Policy,' schools in the district repeatedly have permitted guns of various kinds at various school activities, creating a custom of waiving or disregarding the policy," the complaint states.

Thayer seeks punitive damages. He is represented by Jeffrey Wilcox with Gallian, Wilcox, Welker, Olson & Beckstrom of St. George.

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