Friday, May 25, 2018
Public safety

Parents of woman shot over weekend say gun owner should be held accountable

BROOKSVILLE — Before Katherine Hoover died, she bought her unborn son the outfit she wanted him to wear home from the hospital. Her sister purchased a crib. Her mother planned a surprise baby shower.

But Rehlin Lee Hoover never got to wear his camouflage-patterned outfit. He never got to sleep in the crib. His mother never got to celebrate her pregnancy at the party.

Instead, the mother and son died hours apart over the weekend in the same hospital — mother from a gunshot wound, son after a premature birth.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office said it appears accidental, but they're still investigating. Pending the results, Hoover's parents, Gary and Donna Bryan of New Port Richey, want the gun's owner held responsible.

"With a gun, there really is no accident," said Gary Bryan, 56. "It's negligence."

Hoover and her husband, Carson, 30, of Inverness, visited William DeHayes, 35, at his Brooksville home Saturday evening, according to the Sheriff's Office. About 6:45 p.m., DeHayes showed the couple his guns, including a .22-caliber revolver.

The gun fired. The bullet struck Hoover in the head.

She was rushed to a Hernando hospital, then flown to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson. Doctors removed her baby, who was pronounced dead 30 minutes later. Katherine Hoover died about 3 a.m. Sunday, leaving behind her husband and her son from a previous relationship, 6-year-old Nicholas, who lives with the Bryans.

No one answered the door at DeHayes' home Monday afternoon.

In accidental shootings, prosecutors could file manslaughter charges depending on how recklessly the gun owner acted, said Jimmy Brown, a Brooksville defense lawyer and former assistant state attorney. He compared it to a car accident. If you crash while changing the radio or yelling at your kids in the backseat, investigators would probably consider it an accident, he said. But if you're speeding or weaving in and out of traffic, that recklessness could warrant a criminal charge.

In gun deaths, investigators could consider several factors: alcohol or drug use, hand positioning on the gun while it's being displayed and neglect to check if the gun is loaded, among others.

In Tampa Bay, recent results have varied. In 2013, a 3-year-old boy shot himself with a handgun he found in his uncle's backpack (the man was charged with a crime). In 2012, a church parishioner in Lealman accidentally set off a gun that killed the pastor's daughter (the man was not charged with a crime).

As the Bryans waited Monday for an update on the investigation, they gathered with their other children at their home in New Port Richey, remaining awake with coffee and cigarettes.

Nicholas, who goes by Nicky, was staying with his other grandparents. The family hasn't decided yet how to tell the boy his mother is dead.

Donna Bryan, 50, said her daughter was the happiest she'd been since Nicky was born. Hoover endured "hard times," her mother said, before she met Carson and fell in love. The couple eloped in December, then bought a house in Inverness, where they could raise their family, including Carson's son from a previous relationship.

"She was coming along," Bryan said. "She was finally starting to change into an adult."

The memorial service date hasn't been set, but the family plans to cremate Hoover and her son. Half the ashes will go to Carson. The Bryans plan to save the other half for Nicky.

A week before, the boy had written his mother a letter. He sealed it in an envelope and asked his grandmother to deliver it.

"I love you mommy," it read. "I love daddy. I love my whole family."

Donna Bryan never got the chance to deliver it.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (352)754-6114 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.

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