Saturday, February 28, 2004

Parents' plea: Lock up your guns

'No matter what I do, another child is dead. ... You were reckless ... you have to be responsible.'

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Javonnah Williams shows a picture of her son, Javontay Williams, to Charles Crabtree Friday during a sentencing hearing. Javontay was shot and killed by a friend after they found a loaded gun in Crabtree's room. Crabtree received a one-year prison sentence.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GARY LANDERS

The parents of a 7-year-old boy shot to death last year by a friend playing with a loaded gun called the gun owner careless and irresponsible during the man's sentencing Friday.

But through tears and anger, they urged other gun owners to keep weapons out of the reach of curious children.

"You have to be more responsible when it comes to guns, you have to be more responsible when it comes to kids," said Shawn Clark, the father of Javontay Williams. "If you have a gun, put it up, or put a lock on it."

Javontay was shot to death in September after he and his 8-year-old best friend found Charles Crabtree's loaded gun in a downstairs room of their Mount Airy home.

Crabtree was convicted of reckless homicide in Javontay's death and sentenced Friday to spend a year in prison.

The 19-year-old apologized to Javontay's parents:

"It stays in the back of my head and hurts me very much because that was never supposed to happen," he said. "I know there is nothing I can do to fix your broken heart, but if I could change it, I would."

'A lot of responsibility'

The parents' painful plea comes just a day after the U.S. Senate voted to require all handguns sold in the United States to have child safety locks. The House already has passed the bill, but Senate changes to the bill require a compromise version before it can be signed into law.

Police nationwide, and in Ohio, have handed out thousands of free trigger locks to gun owners in an attempt to decrease the number of accidental shootings.

Project ChildSafe, a national program that runs the free trigger lock program, has delivered 13,000 trigger locks to law enforcers in Hamilton County and another 3,000 to surrounding Ohio communities since December. Statewide, 530,000 gun locks have been distributed in the past five months.

Steve Alger, spokesman for Project ChildSafe, said the locks have helped reduce the number of children accidentally killed by guns.

Since 1975, there has been an 84 percent decline in fatal firearm accidents among children 14 and younger, according to the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Safety Council.

Still, Chief Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said one boy's death is too many.

"We support people's right to bear arms, but with that right comes a lot of responsibility," Piepmeier said. "And, the biggest responsibility is that nobody is harmed like what happened here."

'It was careless'

With no place to go last September, Javonnah Williams moved herself and her two young children into a friend's home in Mount Airy. She knew that Crabtree lived in the basement, which was also where her son and other children often went to play video games.

What she didn't know is that Crabtree kept two guns, at least one of which was loaded, tucked into a sofa bed.

On Sept. 22, her son and Crabtree's 8-year-old nephew went downstairs while the boys' mothers were upstairs. Crabtree was not at the home.

Prosecutors said the boys opened the sofa bed and found the weapons and began playing with one. The 8-year-old pulled the trigger, inadvertently shooting Javontay once in the chest.

Charging a gun owner in such a case is rare, prosecutors said Friday

"It was an accident what occurred between the 8-year-old and the 7-year-old," said Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Kevin Hardman. "What was not an accident was giving them access to a loaded gun."

Crabtree knew the children played there and because of that should have known to keep the weapons unloaded and out of their reach, Hardman said.

Javonnah Williams told Crabtree that he should have known better.

"All the kids played down there," she said. "It was careless."

Sentence was tough decision

During Friday's sentencing, Arthur Henderson said his grandson was bright and inquisitive.

"He was a happy-go-lucky 7-year-old," said Henderson, 52.

Family members of Javontay and Crabtree's families packed Judge Patrick Dinkelacker's courtroom.

Javontay's parents asked Dinkelacker to impose a five-year prison term, the maximum allowed by law.

Determining the sentencing was tough, Dinkelacker said.

"No matter what I do, another child is dead in our community," he said. "You were reckless, you were careless and you have to be responsible."

Clutching a worn photograph of her son, Javonnah Williams told Crabtree she will always have to live with his carelessness.

"It wasn't time for Javontay to go," said Williams, through tears. "The last few months have been hard, a part of me died with him."


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