NEW PORT RICHEY — William DeHayes was showing off his gun collection to friends Carson Hoover and his pregnant wife, Katherine, on July 26 when tragedy struck at his Brooksville home.
As DeHayes spun a .22-caliber revolver around his forefinger — gunslinger-style — the gun went off, striking Katherine Hoover in the temple, according to DeHayes and other witnesses, including Carson Hoover.
The bullet killed Katherine Hoover. Her son, Rehlin Lee Hoover, died about 30 minutes after being removed from his mother’s womb.
Donna Bryan, Katherine Hoover’s mother, said the deaths devastated her family.
For the family, devastation merged with frustrated anger in December, when the State Attorney’s Office in Hernando County decided not to pursue charges against DeHayes, as the shooting was deemed accidental.
“I don’t understand,” Bryan said, her voice quivering. “People go to jail for DUI. This man killed my daughter and grandson. I feel that my daughter deserves justice. She did nothing to deserve being killed and neither did my grandson.”
DeHayes could not be reached for comment. DeHayes’ family has called the shooting a terrible accident.
In reaction to the state attorney’s office decision, Bryan sent letters to Gov. Rick Scott and state Attorney General Pam Bondi as well as Brad King, the state attorney in Hernando.
In a Jan. 13 response, King said that he understands Bryan’s pain, but that an accidental discharge of a firearm that results in a death cannot be prosecuted criminally — even if the death is a result of gross negligence.
“Just as it is my duty to prosecute those who violate the law, it is equally my duty to refrain from prosecuting those whose conduct, no matter how outrageous, does not constitute a crime,” King wrote. “This is such a case.”
King further explained that DeHayes gave a video recorded statement to Hernando sheriff’s investigators in which he described and demonstrated the incident. Besides Carson Hoover, DeHayes’ wife and son also gave statements to investigators, King said.
Those statements show that DeHayes took the gun from its holster, spun it around his forefinger, caught the butt of the gun in his hand and cocked it, then lowered the hammer as the gun fired, King wrote.
“Although Mr. DeHayes had put pressure on the trigger to release the hammer, in a virtually identical case from South Florida, the court has held this does not constitute culpable negligence,” King wrote.
If DeHayes was under the influence of alcohol or drugs “that would be a factor that would have to be considered,” King said in the letter.
However, King added, the deputies who responded to the shooting said that DeHayes did not seem to be “under the influence” of anything, although he took prescription medication.
DeHayes’ “use of prescription drugs, in a prescribed amount, is not sufficient to make the matter a crime,” King said.
Bryan also is circulating a petition via Change.org that she wants to distribute to elected officials in hopes that criminal charges will be brought against DeHayes.
Bryan said this week that she has more than 200 signatures on the petition, although it only has been active a few days. She and husband Gary Bryan are raising her daughter’s 7-year-old son, Nicholas, who lives with them in New Port Richey.
Katherine Hoover called her mother the day she was shot. She had married Carson Hoover about six months earlier, and they had been out shopping for the baby; the couple lived in Inverness.
“She called, and she’s like, ‘We just bought the baby’s outfit he’s coming home in, but you’re not going to be happy,’ ” Bryan said, adding that she knew what was coming next.
“She goes, ‘It’s camouflage!’ I don’t like camouflage, but she really did, and she was all excited. They had baby books in camouflage. The baby’s room was going to be in camouflage.”
Bryan’s voice became strained and the following words sounded tortured.
“Her birthday is coming up soon,” Bryan said. “My grandson (Nicholas) is alive, and I have him in therapy. He’s obviously upset and doesn’t understand why his mommy isn’t here. He asks where his brother is, and I tell him they went to heaven.
“He says, ‘Mommy didn’t even say goodbye to me.’ ”