Drunken Family Thanksgiving Ends in Death

     BEAUFORT, S.C. (CN) – A man shot his nephew after a drunken family Thanksgiving dinner, then a security guard came in and finished the nephew off, the widow claims in a lawsuit against her late husband’s relatives and the gated community.
     Tracey Piotrowski sued on her own behalf and for her late husband, James Piotrowski, in Beaufort County Court. The defendants are Richard Santee, 68, his wife Carolyn Santee, and the Brays Island Plantation Colony.
     Tracey Piotrowski says in the complaint that she and her husband and with other relatives were invited for Thanksgiving 2010 at the home of his aunt and uncle, the Santees.
     Tracey Piotrowski claims the Santees kept several loaded guns at their home.
     “Throughout the course of the day on November 24, 2010, and into that evening, defendants Richard Santee and Carolyn Santee each consumed multiple alcoholic beverages to the point that they became grossly intoxicated,” Piotrowski says in the complaint.
     At about 15 minutes after midnight on Nov. 25, Richard Santee took one of the guns and “while intoxicated, recklessly discharged a handgun and shot plaintiff James Piotrowski,” the widow says in the complaint. Her husband was 42.
     The complaint continues: “As a result of the plaintiff [James] being shot, a chaotic situation developed at the home and Bray’s Island Security was called to the home. …
     “Bray’s Island Security Officer Gary Knox entered into defendant Santee’s home and negligently fired a weapon at James Piotrowski and struck him.
     “That as a result of being shot by defendant Santee and Bray’s Island Security Officer Gary Knox, James Piotrowski died.”
     The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office told the Beaufort Gazette that the two men had an argument after most of the family had gone to bed.
     “[Richard] Santee, the only living witness to the fight, gave investigators differing accounts, some of which were contradicted by evidence collected at the scene,” the Gazette reported, citing an “investigative report” from the sheriff’s office.
     The Gazette has published at least six stories on the confused evening. According to those stories, citing the sheriff’s office, Santee shot his nephew three times with a Taurus Judge revolver loaded with .410 shotgun shells, then put the gun down on a counter. Piotrowski picked it up, at which point the security guard “looked through a window and saw James Piotrowski shoot Santee. Knox then came in through the unlocked door and shot Piotrowski,” according to the Gazette.
     Knox was not charged; the Sheriff’s Office called it a justified use of force.
     The Sheriff’s office reported that Piotrowski was hit at least three times, his blood splattering the front, top and bottom of the kitchen cabinets. After he was shot, Piotrowski evidently took a few steps through his quickly pooling blood, then fell, toppling a chair, bottles of wine and wine glasses, according to the Gazette.
     Richard Santee was charged with attempted murder in March 2011 and released on $100,000 bond. His case has yet to be scheduled for trial. If convicted, he faces two to 30 years in prison.
     Tracey Piotrowski says in her complaint that the defendants owed her and her husband a duty to exercise reasonable care “to provide for the safety of his social guest and not to put plaintiffs in an unreasonably dangerous situation.”
     “Defendant Richard Santee was aware of the inherent hazards of not having his firearms secured or under lock and key when alcohol would be consumed to the point of intoxication and was aware of the inherent dangers in handling a firearm when intoxicated,” she says in the complaint.
     She claims that Brays Island failed to properly train its security officers, and failed to follow its own policies and procedures, placing her husband in “known and obvious” danger.
     She seeks actual and punitive damages for wrongful death, negligence, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium.
     She is represented by William Applegate, with Yarborough Applegate, in Charleston.

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