Brays Island man charged in Thanksgiving eve shooting death

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Brays Island man charged in Thanksgiving eve shooting death

Published Tuesday, March 22, 2011   |  855 Words  |  

A Brays Island man was arrested and charged Tuesday with attempted murder in a Thanksgiving-eve family gun battle in which his nephew was killed by a Brays Island security guard, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday.

Authorities say Richard Santee, 68, shot his nephew, James Piotrowski, 42, of Stuart, Fla., on Nov. 24. Piotrowski was shot multiple times, including once by a Brays Island Plantation security guard who arrived at Santee's home and saw Piotrowski shoot and wound Santee, according to Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner. That security guard, Charles Gary Knox, 58, of Beaufort was not charged. Tanner said in December that the security guard was justified in shooting Piotrowski.

Santee was arrested without incident Tuesday morning at his home. Santee is being held at the Beaufort County Detention Center awaiting a bond hearing, which is scheduled for this morning, according to Philip Foot, detention center director.

If convicted of the attempted murder charge, Santee faces up to 30 years in prison.

The shooting took place at the Brays Island Drive home of Santee and his wife, Carolyn. Several relatives had gathered at the house in the private, 5,500-acre gated community in Sheldon to celebrate Thanksgiving, according to several accounts.

After dinner and drinks, some began to go to bed at about 10:30 p.m.; others apparently stayed up, Tanner has said.

Based on a summary provided by the Sheriff's Office and Beaufort County Deputy Coroner David Ott, the autopsy report from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston said Piotrowski "burst" into Santee's bedroom "quite upset." A fight ensued.

Santee then retrieved a Taurus Judge revolver loaded with .410 shotguns shells from the closet of his first-floor bedroom and pointed it at Piotrowski, Tanner has said.

Piotrowski charged at Santee, who then shot him, according to a summary in the autopsy. Santee placed the gun on a counter and walked away.

The autopsy says that's when Piotrowski rose from the floor, grabbed the gun and shot his uncle. Santee was hit in the shoulder, according to a Sheriff's Office news release.

Meanwhile, Carolyn Santee called Brays Island security and 911, Tanner said. Some time lapsed between the two calls, although Tanner would not say how much.

The caller gave few details to plantation security, asking only that officers come to the house -- and quickly -- he said.

Santee shot Piotrowski three times -- once in the left shoulder, once in the abdomen and once in the face, according to the autopsy -- before security arrived.

Moments later, Knox arrived at the large, two-story home. He knocked and rang the doorbell, but no one answered. He didn't hear gunshots and had no indication of what was happening inside the home, Tanner has said.

As he stood at the front door, Knox looked through a window and saw a man standing in the foyer, pointing a gun at another man, who was slumped at the base of a staircase, Tanner has said.

The man inside the home raised the gun and fired, hitting the man, Tanner said.

The security officer then opened the front door, which was unlocked, and shot the man holding the gun, later confirmed to be Piotrowski, he said.

According to the autopsy, Piotrowski was shot four times -- in the face, shoulder and abdomen with shotshell and in the back with a bullet. He was killed by "gunshot wounds of the neck and trunk."

"While all of the gunshots caused devastating injuries, the gunshot wound to the back was likely the most immediately fatal," the autopsy continued.

Tanner would not say if anyone else in the home saw any of the shots fired.

Family members at the home included Carolyn Santee; Piotrowski's mother and grandmother (Carolyn's sister and mother, respectively); Piotrowski's wife; and Piotrowski's brother, Steve, of Jacksonville, Fla.

Steve Piotrowski declined to comment on the incident or the investigation but said Tuesday had been an "emotional" day.

Attempts Tuesday to reach Carolyn Santee, Piotrowski's wife in Florida, and Brays Island Plantation management were unsuccessful.

After the incident, Santee was treated at Memorial Medical University in Savannah and later released. According to a toxicology report issued by Pennsylvania-based NMS Labs, Piotrowski had a blood-alcohol concentration of .262 from ethanol. That is over the limit legally considered to cause intoxication if consumed in drinks, but ethanol also is a product of postmortem decomposition, according to the autopsy.

Tanner would not comment on the toxicology report.

He said because several family members had been drinking that night, it took investigators time to sort through their stories.

"Everyone who was there has been cooperative. Because of the alcohol use of everyone involved, it's taken awhile to try and get the facts in order," he said. "No one has impeded the investigation. But as far as the level of truth and honesty, that's a different question."