Stray shot terrifies gun club's neighbors Pasadena woman wants answers PASADENA

February 26, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Carol Coughlin froze when she felt shards of glass from the living-room window spraying her from behind.

A bullet from a high-powered rifle had ricocheted off the driveway and smashed the second-floor window before bouncing off a sheet-rock wall and falling to the floor.

Now Carol, 14, a ninth grader at Chesapeake Bay High School, said she gets "jumpy" whenever she hears a gun fire at the nearby Stoney Creek Hunting and Fishing Club.

Her mother, Agnes Coughlin, said she'll never rest easy until she knows where the bullet came from and receives assurances that it can't happen again.

For the last six months, she said, she has received few satisfactory answers from the police or the gun club, which operates several shooting ranges less than a half-mile from her home on Fort Smallwood Road.

Police officials contacted yesterday said they believe the bullet was an errant shot fired from the club's rifle range. However, they found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and closed their case Sept. 9, a day after the event.

Initially incredulous, club members are beginning to take responsibility. The club's Board of Directors reported the incident Wednesday to its insurance company to determine if any damages should be paid to the Coughlins, club president Jay Hackmann said.

At first, club members had a difficult time believing the bullet could have been one of theirs.

An apparent key to the change in attitude was a ballistics test that showed the bullet was a type used in target-shooting competitions and the same type used by club members on the rifle range the day of the incident.

"Our primary objective in all this is to be a good neighbor, which includes seeing that our range is safe and that this doesn't happen again," Mr. Hackmann said.

He added that the club was working with the National Rifle Association to make improvements.

Sgt. Dennis O'Toole, a member of the club and a firearms instructor at the county police academy, said he had no doubt the bullet came from the club's range.

But, he said, it was a fluke. The bullet ricocheted twice, making two 90-degree turns and traveling nearly 5,000 feet before reaching the Coughlins' split-foyer home, Sergeant O'Toole said.

"Anyone familiar with ballistics will tell you that's unusual," he said.

Mr. Hackmann said he wasn't ready to concede that the club was responsible.

"Trying to say that that projectile came from our [rifle] range is kind of a shot in the dark," he said, noting at least three nearby sites where people shoot clandestinely.

"Our ultimate problem is that we can't control what happens outside our range."

The Coughlins remain petrified. The mother and daughter said this week they relive the episode every time they hear gunfire at the club.

"I cringe whenever I hear gun shots coming from over there," said Mrs. Coughlin, who left her job as a clerk for the Orange County, N.Y., Sheriff's Department and moved to Pasadena last March. "I want to go hide because I know what a bullet can do to a person."

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