The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 18, 2013

Play with handgun ends badly

JAY, Okla. — An Oklahoma man is believed to have shot another passenger in the back while twirling a handgun on his finger like a cowboy in the back seat of a car.

Capt. Gayle Wells, with the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department, said sheriff’s deputies received a report at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday of an apparent robbery and shooting on Oklahoma Highway 412 near the Arkansas state line.

Wells said Rusti James, 21, of rural Colcord, was brought to the Siloam Springs Regional Hospital in Arkansas with a small-caliber gunshot wound to the lower left side of his back.

James and his girlfriend, Marion Snell, 23, initially reported that they had picked up a hitchhiker on Highway 412 who tried to rob them and shot James, according to Wells. He said they told authorities that the hitchhiker got out of their car and fled toward Mosely School after the shooting.

Deputies began searching the area but failed to find any suspect.

A West Siloam police officer and a detective then interviewed James and Snell a second time at the hospital and learned that they had fabricated the story about a hitchhiker out of a professed fear of the actual shooter, whom they identified as Johnathan W. Gardner, 20, of Colcord.

Wells said the couple reported that Gardner and his girlfriend, Katie Jo Jenks, had been riding in the back seat of their car, with Snell driving and James in the front passenger seat. Gardner and James were playing with a small handgun, passing it back and forth and twirling it “cowboy style” as they cruised down New Life Ranch Road between Colcord and West Siloam Springs, Wells said.

Gardner was playing with the gun when it discharged, and the bullet passed through the front seat into the back of James, he said.

The couple told investigators that after the shooting, Gardner threw the gun into a ravine along County Road S700. Gardner and Jenks got out of their car and walked away before they drove to the hospital, Snell and James told investigators.

Authorities located Gardner in the Oak Hill community east of Jay and took him into custody Tuesday night. A charge was being sought Wednesday for possession of a firearm as a felon. Gardner has prior convictions in Delaware County for possession of a controlled substance and attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and has been on probation, according to Wells.

Gun recovered

The gun believed to have been used in an accidental shooting near Colcord has been recovered. Its ownership remains under investigation, according to the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department.

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