TWO WEEKS OF GUNS: 4 dead, others injured after recent spate of shootings, violence

Four people are dead and at least that many have been in injured in the past two weeks in a string of violent, and sometimes bizarre, incidents involving guns.


St. Johns Street incident

The first incident happened the evening of Feb. 25 when an argument on South St. Johns Street in the West Augustine area resulted in shots being fired at a car with two children inside it.

Shaniqwa Shantae Copeland, 21, and Darnell Marsarn Crosby Hines, 25, were both taken into custody on one charge each of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill and two counts each of abuse of a child without great bodily harm, according to arrest reports from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

The reports indicate the two were in an argument with a man who fired four shots from a 9mm pistol at Copeland’s car, striking it twice.

The man, who is referred to as the “victim” in the reports and whose name is redacted, told deputies that Copeland was trying to hit him with her car and eventually crashed her car into his.

Hines, according to his arrest report, had been in Copeland’s car but exited it and threatened the man with a “large stick.”

At the time of the incident, Copeland’s children — one 5 months old and one 15 months old — were both in her car.

Because the man was in fear for his life when he fired the shots he was not arrested, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Flagler Estates shooting

The next night, the Sheriff’s Office SWAT team and detectives from the Major Crimes Unit were called to Flagler Estates in the southwest corner of the county after a receiving reports that a man had been shot following an argument on a piece of property there.

Investigators now believe that 62-year-old David James Freer and Rex Vernon Hess, 58, had been involved in what one Sheriff’s’s Office representative called a “pretty significant physical altercation.” Court documents indicate that detectives think that at some point during that fight Freer went back to his home, retrieved a gun, returned to the fight, and, after an exchange of words, shot Hess.

Hess was flown to Orange Park Medical Center following the incident where he was last reported in critical condition. Freer, who was later found by the SWAT team in a trailer on the property, was taken to Flagler Hospital for treatment of injuries he sustained in the fight and later transported to Orange Park Medical Center as well.

Upon his release, he was taken into custody on a warrant for attempted first-degree murder and possession of a firearm or ammunition by a convicted felon.

Two dead after King Street argument

Things remained relatively quiet for nearly a week until March 4 when gunfire erupted around 10 a.m. during an argument on West King Street in the parking lot of the King Food Mart.

Hours after that incident, 25-year-old Canyon Charles Molitor and 30-year-old Elroi Ishmael Ashley were both dead from their injuries.

Molitor was pronounced dead at the scene, shortly after deputies and St. Johns County Fire Rescue personnel arrived following reports of shots fired in the area.

Ashley, who was taken from the scene to Flagler Hospital in a private vehicle immediately following the incident, died in surgery hours later.

Before the end of the day, the Sheriff’s Office said the two men appeared to have been arguing via “digital communication” when they agreed to meet at the business in the 60o block of West King Street. Once there, “the two quickly began a verbal argument which led to the men brandishing handguns and firing,” a Sheriff’s Office news release said.

Shooting behind Nobby’s

Less than 24 hours later, in the early morning hours of March 5, the St. Augustine Police Department responded to a report of another shooting near the intersection of Flagler Boulevard and Gerado Street, behind Nobby’s bar on S.R. A1A.

A call placed to the Police Department at 2:19 a.m. reported someone being shot, but both victim and suspect fled the scene before the first officer arrived at 2:23 a.m.

Investigators requested the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office be on the lookout for gunshot victims at Flagler Hospital. Shortly after, a call was received reporting that a deputy had detained a white male with a gunshot wound to his leg.

Officials said witnesses provided conflicting stories initially, but further investigation revealed that a black male suspect in a maroon sport utility vehicle drove away from the scene.

No suspect has been named in that case and the investigation is ongoing.

Sea Colony guard attacked with assault rifle

Hours later, at 8:35 p.m. the St. Augustine Beach Police Department and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office responded to the gated community of Sea Colony, just off A1A Beach Boulevard, after receiving reports of a disturbance at the guard shack there.

Not long after, 19-year-old Jake Andrew DeWerth, who lives in the neighborhood with his parents, was in custody on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and two counts of fraud.

Police reports released following the arrest indicate that DeWerth is believed to have attacked the security guard at the gate with the butt of an AK-47 assault rifle.

Surveillance video from the scene appears to show DeWerth pointing the rifle at the guard’s head at least once and striking him a number of times as the guard, identified as Michael Wescott, attempts to shield himself from the blows.

Wescott, incident reports say, suffered a dislocated jaw, broken nose and fractured cheekbone.

DeWerth, who has since been released from jail after posting $126,000 bond, is now facing the aggravated battery charge, the two-counts of fraud (for apparent fake IDs found in his wallet), and one count of burglary with assault or battery.

A ‘very stupid accident’

The same night of that incident, sheriff’s deputies also responded to a home in the 9500 block of County Road 13 in reference to a possible shooting.

The deputy who filled out the report said that, once on scene, 23-year-old Austin Troy Wilkerson told him that his friend Grady Daniel Sims, also 23, had shot him in the leg in an apparent accident.

Wilkerson and Sims told the deputy that they had been playing with a handgun — listed in the report as a 9mm Glock 19 — that they didn’t think was loaded. While sitting on the couch, Sims placed the gun on Wilkerson’s left leg and pulled the trigger.

The gun fired, wounding Wilkerson about 6 inches above his knee.

Wilkerson’s dad told the deputy the two men have been friends since high school and was unaware of any issues between them. According to the report the father characterized the shooting as a “very stupid accident.”

No arrests were made, but the Major Crimes Unit was notified.

Wilkerson was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment.

One dead on Los Robles Avenue

A full day passed before a report of another incident, but, on Tuesday morning, Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes detectives were called to a home in the 1400 block of Los Robles Avenue after a deputy, while conducting a check on welfare, found a man inside the home dead from an apparent gunshot wound.

The discovery was the first of two deadly shootings last week.

The Sheriff’s Office later identified the man inside the home as James Henry Weaver, 56, of St. Augustine.

A subsequent autopsy confirmed that he died of a gunshot wound to the chest and the death was ruled a homicide.

Weaver, the Sheriff’s Office said, had recently moved into the home with an acquaintance, 55-year-old Steven Michael Canard, who was never questioned because he was killed in a crash on State Road 207 Monday night, just blocks from the home where his roommate was found the next morning.

According to a Florida Highway Patrol report of that crash, Canard was making a left hand turn on S.R. 207 from Hastings Road when his Volkswagen Jetta was hit by a northbound motorcycle.

The impact of the crash overturned the Jetta, ejecting Canard, who was not wearing a seat belt. The driver of the motorcycle, 24-year-old Oliver James Rollins, and Canard were both pronounced dead at the scene.

As of the last update from the Sheriff’s Office, there was no “active search” for a suspect in Weaver’s death and officials were stopping short of naming Canard as such.

“Given the facts behind the case, we are currently focusing in on any connection between the two, and we have garnered no information that has provided us with a suspect or a person of interest,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan told The Record last week. “But everything remains on the table as we move forward.”

Arricola Avenue shooting death

Closing out the second week of violence and shooting incidents on Thursday evening, as concert goers were making their way to the Earth, Wind &Fire show at the St. Augustine Amphitheater, personnel from the Sheriff’s Office, St. Augustine Police Department and the St. Augustine Beach Police Department converged on a grassy lot in the 400 block of Arricola Avenue, just a block off S.R. A1A on Anastasia Island, after receiving reports of a person being shot.

Not long after authorities arrived around 5:30 p.m., Jeffrey S. Lee, 29, of Fernandina Beach, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A news release from the Police Department the following day said the shooting occurred after a confrontation between Lee and two women — a mother and daughter — in the lot next to a cluster of apartments.

According to police, just before the shooting, Jessica Henries, who lives in the apartments, called her sister, Jordan Henries, and her mother, Debra Henries, saying that Lee — who is described as Jessica Henries’ “boyfriend” in the release — had shown up at her apartment and a physical confrontation had occurred.

The mother and sister “immediately” showed up at the apartment and “another confrontation occurred” between them and Lee, the release said. During that argument Jordan Henries “produced” a handgun and shot Lee.

Investigators subsequently interviewed all three women and they were released.

Lee, police said, had previously been trespassed from the apartment.

The investigation into the shooting is ongoing.

Police Department spokesman Mark Samson said investigators were still going through witness statements and physical evidence and would likely end up meeting with the State Attorney’s Office to determine if there would be any charges stemming from the incident.

“I think they have a lot to process and go through and try to make a decision from there,” Samson said Friday.