Ghost hunting can be a dangerous hobby. You’re wandering around in the dark, in unfamiliar territory. Oftentimes, the building you are investigating is old, and stairs and bannisters may be more decorative than functional. And then sometimes, there’s just a hillbilly with a BB gun who wants to run you off because you’re near her property looking at a haunted tunnel. We blogged about this story when it first came out, and now there’s an update, saying that she’s been acquitted of assault charges.
ROGERSVILLE — A Hawkins County woman accused of shooting a BB gun at a carload of youngsters near a “haunted tunnel” in June was acquitted on assault charges following a bench trial in Hawkins County Sessions Court Wednesday.
Brandi Lea Amey, 28, who lives at 737 Big Elm Road just north of Allandale, was originally charged with five counts of aggravated assault stemming from the June 13 incident.
Aggravated assault is a Class C felony punishable by 3-6 years.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors later agreed that the facts and type of weapon didn’t merit felony charges, and her trial Wednesday was for five counts of simple assault.
According to HCSO reports, shortly before 11 p.m. on June 13, Jessica Winstead, 20, of Johnson City, and four juvenile friends stopped at a railroad tunnel off of Big Elm Road near Amey’s home.
A male juvenile was outside the vehicle taking pictures of the tunnel, which like the nearby Sensabaugh Hollow Road railroad tunnel is haunted, according to local legend.
Winstead told the HCSO that Amey came out from the residence next to the tunnel and told them they needed to leave. As the male was getting back into the vehicle, they observed some type of firearm in Amey’s hand, and Winstead said she saw Amey cocking what she thought was a firearm.
Winstead stated that as they drove off Amey fired it at them, striking the rear of the vehicle.
Amey didn’t testify in her trial, but she had told the HCSO at the time of her arrest there was an ongoing problem with people stopping at the tunnel and causing a disturbance.
According to a HCSO report, Amey stated that she had a Red Rider BB gun, and as the vehicle was leaving she pointed the gun and fired it at the vehicle, but she was unaware that she hit it.
Three occupants of the vehicle that night testified for the prosecution.
Defense attorneys Rick Spivey and Matt King were able to identify inconsistencies in the testimony of the three witnesses which Sessions Judge J. Todd Ross later determined was enough to constitute reasonable doubt.
One witness testified that she wasn’t afraid, which is a key element to the assault charge when there’s no bodily contact.
Another witness testified he was afraid because someone said Amey had a gun.
But there was also testimony that Amey held the gun the whole time and he argued with her for about two minutes and he wasn’t afraid at that time.
A third witness also testified that the gun wasn’t pointed at her, nor did she see it fired.
There was also testimony alleging that the BB shot busted a tail light on the vehicle.
Photos of the damage, however, weren’t consistent with what a BB shot would cause, the judge determined.
In giving his ruling, Ross stated that the testimony of the alleged victims was inconsistent and the proof related to the alleged victims was insufficient to rise beyond a reasonable doubt for the charges that were filed.
Two counts were dismissed because the alleged victims didn’t appear in court and no evidence was presented on their behalf.
Ross noted that the driver offered no testimony that she was ever placed in fear of imminent bodily harm, which is a required element of the crime of assault as it applied to this case.
The male passenger allegedly had a two-minute conversation with the defendant while she was holding the BB gun, wasn’t afraid, and got into the car only after being prodded by the driver, Ross added.
Ross said that if Amey had been charged with reckless endangerment, the outcome of the trial might have been different.
I can understand the teens saying they weren’t afraid, as teenage bravado would certainly come into play here. And maybe they honestly thought she wouldn’t fire on them. I can also understand this woman’s point of view and being annoyed by people constantly stopping by the tunnel to check it out, but one would think she would be better served by calling the police rather than shooting BBs at people. Sure, nobody was hurt this time, but what if she had taken out someone’s eye (no “A Christmas Story” pun intended here)? BB guns may seem like toys, but they can seriously injure people if misused. I agree that the assault charges were perhaps too severe, but I still think she got off easy.