Washington man Gail Gerlach will appear in court on June 12 to face charges of first-degree manslaughter with a deadly weapon. He faces at least nine years in prison if convicted.
The 56-year-old plumber and grandfather was about to take his wife to work when he stepped outside and saw someone driving away in his 1997 Chevy Suburban. Gerlach had left the car running in the driveway.
As Gerlach chased down the car, he saw the driver make a motion with his hand like he was about to use a gun. Gerlach fired his 9 mm handgun before the driver could make another move, and killed 27-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham instantly.
The shot broke through the driver’s side window, through a child’s car seat, and through the headrest into the back of Graham’s head. The car immediately swerved and crashed into a neighboring garage at 50mph.
Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker called the shot a one in 1,000 chance.
After the shot was fired, Gerlach ran back into the house and called 911. He told police officers that he was scared, and unsure if shooting the thief had been the right thing to do. He also hoped that the man had not been hurt, according to an officer at the scene.
Tucker said that the room was initially split on deciding charges – one side sought murder, while the other side cleared Gerlach of charges altogether. When Tucker made a point that Gerlach did not face imminent danger, charges of manslaughter were settled upon. He added that murder charges would be hard to get, considering only one shot was fired.
Gerlach’s attorney, Richard Lee, said said his client was disappointed with the charges, suggesting that they were uncalled for.
Tucker, in turn, noted that shooting a gun at someone causes definite harm: “If you don’t mean to kill somebody, you don’t shoot a gun directly at them.”