Toddler’s Death Blamed on Bad Gun Safe

     VANCOUVER, Wash. (CN) – A toddler killed himself with a gun stored in a gun safe with a defective lock, his father, a former sheriff’s deputy, claims in court.
     Eddie P. Owens and his wife Kristie sued Stack-On Products; Clark County, Washington; and Sheriff Garry Lucas, in Clark County Court.
     Stack-On makes a gun safe used by police in Clark County, which the Owenses say had a known defect in its locking mechanism.
     In September 2010, the Owens’ 3-year old son Ryan took his father’s service pistol from a locked safe box and accidentally shot himself in the face. He died in the hospital.
     The Owenses were cleared of negligence or fault, and a detective from a different agency concluded that the locking mechanism on the safe had failed, according to the complaint.
     “‘I have genuine concerns … that the Stack-On Strong Box safe can allow unwanted access to the contents of the safe,” that detective wrote in a memo to superiors,'” according to the complaint. “‘I’m making you aware of this problem so necessary steps can be taken to ensure the safety of our personnel and their families.'”
     The Owenses claim that from 2006 to 2010, Clark County employees and Sheriff’s Office deputies reported malfunctions in safe locks, but the county refused to warn police about the problems.
     Owens claims that Stack-On issues a voluntary recall of gun safes in 2004, stating: “These safes can be opened without the use of a combination by jiggling with the door knob. This could allow unauthorized access to a handgun and the potential for injury.”
     The complaint adds: “Despite having received the recall notification, the county continued to purchase the safes in large quantities with little or no inquiry, product research or testing.
     “Eventually the county began purchasing large quantities of the safes directly from Stack-On at a significant discount (approximately $36.00 each) and then resold additional units to CCSO employees for their personal non-work use.”
     The Owenses seek damages from Stack-On for product liability, and from the county for misrepresentation, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.
     In May 2012, Eddie Owens sued the county, Sheriff Lucas and Chief Deputy Mike Evans for wrongful termination, claiming he was fired because he raised concerns about the faulty safes.
     Owens claimed he was cleared of negligence, and that his superiors fought against efforts to have the safes removed.
     “In retaliation for plaintiff’s repeated complaints regarding the dangers posed by the Stack-On gun safes and to chill his ability to further complain, Lucas, Evans and the County prosecuting attorney’s office ‘reopened’ an investigation into plaintiff and launched a new internal affairs review designed to publicly discredit him and justify his eventual termination from employment,” the 2012 complaint states.
     After an internal investigation, Owens claimed, he was fired for “efforts that would have exposed what Lucas, Evans, and the County already knew: that the locking mechanisms on the gun safes had been malfunctioning for years, and had Lucas and Evans taken action, Ryan Owens’ death could have been prevented.”
     Owens claimed in his first lawsuit that superiors portrayed him “as a dishonest cop” to peers and media.
     Owens is represented by Gregory Ferguson in both lawsuits.
     In the new complaint, Owens and his wife also are represented by William Baumgartner of Baumgartner, Nelson & Wagner.

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