2 years after Thanksgiving shooting, still no closure for widow

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2 years after Thanksgiving shooting, still no closure for widow

By ALLISON STICE
astice@islandpacket.com
Published Sunday, November 25, 2012   |  848 Words  |  

Thanksgiving is a time of mourning for Tracey Piotrowski.

During a family gathering at Bray's Island Plantation two years ago, her husband, James Piotrowski, was shot to death after an argument with his uncle, Richard Santee, according to authorities.

Santee, who was charged three months after the shooting with attempted murder and was soon released on $100,000 bond, has not yet been tried.

Tracey Piotrowski says she's waited long enough for the case to be heard.

"I can't even describe the feeling, because all it comes down to is that horrible day for me, for us, for our family," said Piotrowski, who lives in Fleming Island, Fla. "There's not a whole lot of Thanksgiving to celebrate when nothing has been done."

Solicitor Duffie Stone said the case against Santee, who is now 70, will be heard in 2013. Prosecutors in the 14th Judicial Circuit Court are trying a murder case each month through January, including one in which they have requested the death penalty. After that, Stone said, he'll have a better idea when the Santee trial will be scheduled.

"It may not go as fast as we would all like it to, but the most important thing is that it is done correctly," Stone said. "It takes a lot of time to get these cases to trial because you have to make sure they are properly prepared. That is always going to be my No. 1 concern."

Santee declined to comment on the pending case against him, citing the advice of his attorneys.

One of his defense lawyers, Mike Macloskie, said he can't move forward with the case until Tracey Piotrowski produces what he would only call "material" outlined in a judge's order. An order to produce medical records dated September 2011 is the most recent filing in the case, according to court records.

But Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton said it is the state's responsibility to turn over evidence, not Piotrowski's. Thornton said he has turned over all evidence the defense has requested and is not aware of any outstanding requests.

While awaiting the trial, Piotrowski said, she has hired an attorney, David Savage of Charleston, to prepare a lawsuit. She said the responsible parties must still be determined before the suit can be filed.

She said she has many questions about the "bloodbath" that claimed the life of her husband, a former Navy pilot who served about 15 years.

On Nov. 24, 2010, she and her husband, his brother Steve Piotrowski and several other relatives were gathered at the home of her husband's aunt and uncle, Richard and Carolyn Santee, in the 5,500-acre gated community in Sheldon.

According to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigation, after most of the family had gone to bed, including Tracey Piotrowski, an argument broke out between Richard Santee and James Piotrowski. Santee, the only living witness to the fight, gave investigators differing accounts, some of which were contradicted by evidence collected at the scene, the investigative report said.

Investigators said that during the argument, Santee grabbed a Taurus Judge revolver loaded with .410 shotgun shells from the closet of his first-floor bedroom and shot his nephew three times, then placed his gun on the counter. James Piotrowski picked it up. A Brays Island Plantation security guard, Charles Gary Knox, looked through a window and saw James Piotrowski shoot Santee. Knox then came in through the unlocked door and shot Piotrowski.

Tracey Piotrowski ran downstairs to find her husband at the bottom of the stairs with his jaw shot away. She is a registered nurse and, along with her brother-in-law, who is a paramedic and firefighter in Jacksonville, Fla., attempted first aid until law enforcement officers "ripped us away," Steve Piotrowski said.

In the month after the shooting, Knox was cleared by the Sheriff's Office, who called his actions a "justified use of force."

Steve Piotrowski disagrees with that determination.

And he and his sister-in-law said they are concerned that Santee, who now lives in North Carolina after the court authorized the move, is free on bond and may own firearms.

"Without closure, our family hasn't celebrated Thanksgiving since that night," Steve Piotrowski said.

Related content:

Questions, contradictions surround deadly shooting incident, April 2, 2011

Recently released Sheriff's Office report offers new details of Brays Island shooting, April 2, 2011

Brays Island man charged in Thanksgiving eve shooting death, March 22, 2011

Uncle charged in Brays Island slaying released from jail, March 23, 2011

Security guard cleared in fatal shooting on Brays Island, Dec. 1, 2010