Man gets 5-year sentence for firing at neighbor

LISBON — An intoxicated man, who opened fire on an excavator while it was being operated last summer, was sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to several charges, including felonious assault with a firearms specification.

Donald J. Baxter, 52, Rochester Road, North Georgetown, had been scheduled for a jury trial on Tuesday before Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Washam. Instead he decided on Monday to take a plea agreement.

Baxter pleaded guilty Tuesday to the second-degree felonious assault charge with a firearms specification, as well as to misdemeanor charges of aggravated menacing, criminal damaging and using a weapon while intoxicated. He then requested immediate sentencing.

According to Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones, Baxter was living in a structure he had constructed out of wooden pallets and a tarp in a wooded area behind the property owned by Kelly Runzo of Triple Luck Performance Horses in North Georgetown. Runzo’s fiance, John Graham, was using a track excavator to remove a tree, which had fallen on the pasture fencing at the back of Runzo’s property.

Jones said Baxter came out waving a 12-gauge shotgun and yelling at Graham. As Baxter backed the machinery away and turned the cab, Baxter fired a single shot leaving a hole in the side of the excavator near the name of it, under the letters O and M.

According to Jones, Runzo had heard the commotion and was heading across the field, which also had horses in it. There were people in the area caring for the horses and even taking riding lessons.

“The defendant’s actions created a risk, not only to Mr. Graham, but to the others there as well,” Jones said.

At one point, Runzo’s uncle went to talk to Baxter, who again appeared with his weapon, according to Jones. Finally, when sheriff’s deputies arrived they reportedly found Baxter in the woods and he had the gun again, but did come out without it when ordered to do so.

Finally, Jones said on the way to the county jail, deputies reported Baxter threatened to shoot all of them when he got out.

Baxter’s defense attorney, Colleen Hall Dailey said Baxter had permission from the owner of that rear property to be staying there. When Washam asked about his living situation, Baxter explained he had been living in a camper, but that camper was damaged when a tree fell on it, so with warmer weather he decided to create his hut until he could buy another camper.

Although Baxter chose not to take the matter to trial, Dailey said there was an independent witness who said he heard arguing from both Baxter and others before the shot was fired. However, she noted even if it was fired in the heat of an argument, Baxter knows it should not have been fired.

“He understands drinking and firearms to not mix,” Dailey said, adding Baxter understands when he is released from prison he will not be allowed to have a gun unless the court changes the order.

Dailey also noted deputies reported finding the weapon in the shed nearby and not with Baxter in the woods after he came out.

“It was a very unfortunate incident that happened that day,” Dailey said, “and thank God no one was injured.”

Besides the five-year prison sentence, Washam ordered Runzo to make restitution for the damage to the equipment, in an amount to be determined, not to exceed $2,700. Additionally he ordered the sheriff’s office to destroy the gun.

Not only did Baxter’s actions damage Graham’s equipment, but Jones said the publicity from what happened caused Runzo an economic loss as some customers chose not to continue housing their horses or taking their riding lessons at the stable out of concerns.