Changes coming to Wild West town after accidental shooting

AP News
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Posted: Oct 20, 2015 9:33 AM
Changes coming to Wild West town after accidental shooting

TOMBSTONE, Ariz. (AP) — It was supposed to be simulation of a wild west showdown in the town made famous by the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

A man in Old West attire drew a revolver, fired off a series of shots, and his nemesis fell to the ground with a gunshot wound.

For the participants in the duel and the people in the audience, however, the shooting ended up being all too real. An actor's gun fired real bullets instead of blanks, wounding a participant in the re-enactment, while a bystander suffered a small cut to her neck from a ricochet or shrapnel.

The shooting also prompted Tombstone to write up new regulations for the gunfights that draw thousands of visitors to the town every year.

Mayor Dusty Escapule said someone inspects weapons used in the gunfight skits to ensure the performers use blanks. But he said the Tombstone Vigilantes actor who fired the live rounds showed up late, and his weapon — a .45-caliber handgun — was not examined.

"I was dumbfounded," Escapule said of learning about the shooting. "I was just appalled the Vigilantes would allow one of the actors to not have their weapons checked."

Escapule said the town near the U.S.-Mexico border is drawing up an ordinance to provide more regulations for the mock battles. The new rules will mandate inspections to ensure blanks are used and require background checks of every actor involved. Escapule said he's presenting the new ordinance at a city council meeting next week.

All outdoor Tombstone gunfights are on hold as the investigation unfolds, the mayor said.

Tombstone Marshal Bob Randall believes the shooting was an accident and says he'll forward the case to prosecutors with a recommendation for an aggravated assault charge. He said the Tombstone Vigilantes are normally "very good at what they do, and they check their weapons religiously."

When asked how or why the gun wasn't checked for bullets, he said: "That's the question of the day. Anybody that's been around firearms knows the first thing you do is check your weapon."

Ken Curtis was listed in good condition Monday at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson, hospital spokeswoman Elyse Palm said. She declined to give further details about his injuries. Curtis said he couldn't discuss the shooting when reached at the hospital.

The bystander, a tourist, did not require any medical treatment.

Randall said the marshal's office inspected the weapon and found one live round and five casings that indicated the gun was filled with real bullets prior to the skit.

He said the first call deputies got was for the woman who was injured from flying shrapnel. It wasn't until later that they figured out Ken Curtis had been hurt. Tombstone, about three hours southeast of Phoenix, was a booming silver mining town in the 1800s before it went bust. It now has about 1,500 residents, and it mostly caters to visitors who come to see gunfight reenactments and historical sites.

The town relies on its Old West past, and tourism is the main economic driver. The streets resemble a Hollywood movie set, complete with historic old saloons and buildings that double as souvenir shops. Several groups perform shooting re-enactments. Other events include mock hangings, graveyard tours, ghost tours and wagon rides. The Tombstone Vigilantes formed in 1946 and are dedicated to preserving and passing along Tombstone's history to tourists.

Sunday's shooting was during the busiest time of the year for Tombstone as it hosted its famous Helldorado days, an annual festival that began in 1929 as the town made a last-ditch attempt to continue being a county seat during a long decline in jobs and residents.

Hundreds of people were in the vicinity of the shooting when it happened, Randall said.

The shooting left locals and tourists in shock. Teresa Benjamin, who dresses in late 1800s prairie outfits and promotes a local business near Allen Street, said she was worried about how it would affect tourism.

"This is our livelihood. This is tragedy," Benjamin said.

But the incident piqued the interest of some tourists. Mitch Treese stopped in Tombstone on his way to nearby Bisbee largely out of curiosity.

"We wanted to see if it was really true. They got us on the hook," Treese said.

The shooting was reminiscent of a 2011 incident in Hill City, South Dakota, where a man fired a loaded gun during a western-themed reenactment and wounded three tourists. The man, a convicted felon, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after authorities say he tried to cover up the fact that he used lived rounds in the shooting.