Teenager’s death leads to lawsuit against Remington

mgordon@charlotteobserver.comDecember 9, 2013 

The family of a Charlotte teenager who died from an alleged misfire from one of the country’s most popular rifles joined a nationwide list of lawsuits Monday against the North Carolina producer of the gun.

“This is a bad rifle. It needs to be off the market,” said Willie Gary, the family’s Florida-based attorney, as relatives of Jasmine Thar hugged and sobbed nearby. “Remington is making millions and billions of dollars on a rifle that clearly malfunctions and misfires.”

Jasmine died Dec. 23, 2011, near the Columbus County town of Whiteville, 140 miles east of Charlotte. The 16-year-old Ardrey Kell student was walking to a car to join family and friends on a Christmas shopping trip to Myrtle Beach when she was hit by a single bullet from a bolt-action Remington .308 Model 700 rifle. Two other people also were wounded by the same round.

Across the street, James Anthony Blackwell was cleaning the gun he had recently received from a friend. He told authorities he never touched the trigger. As the family demanded answers, more than a year passed before investigations by the FBI and the state found that Maxwell had not intentionally fired the rifle.

A Remington spokeswoman did not immediately return an Observer phone call Monday seeking comment about the suit.

On the company’s website, however, Remington touts the Model 700 rifle as “reliable, refined and respected,” and says the weapons have saved countless lives in military battles.

According to Gary, however, the Series 700 has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits nationwide. In its 2010 investigation of the weapon, CNBC concluded that the same mechanism that gives the gun its smooth firing action also makes it prone to discharging when the trigger isn’t pulled. Remington, it said, considered two nationwide recalls of the rifle.

On its website, the Rockingham County-based company said the Model 700, which Remington first produced more than five decades ago, is safe when proper precautions are followed. A company video claims that scientific testing of rifles that supposedly misfired has never recreated the problem. It says malfunctions often involve improper maintenance or alterations to the original mechanisms and settings.

However, Rich Barber, who has studied the model 700 rifle since his 9-year-old son was killed by one in 2000, says Remington has lied to the public about the inherent safety problems with its rifle.

“There are so many people who have died or been maimed by this I can’t hardly remember their names anymore,” said Barber, a Montana- and NRA-certified firearms instructor who claims to have pored through thousands of pages of company documents since his son’s death.

“I do remember the children because they are the ones who didn’t have a chance to grow up. ... Jasmine doesn’t get the chance to do anything.”

The lawsuit stemming from her death was filed Monday morning at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse by her mother, Carletta McNeil of Charlotte; her godmother, Treka McMillian; and Jasmine’s friend Jahmesha McMillian, both of Columbus County. The McMillians were also hit by the bullet from Maxwell’s rifle.

Their suit claims that the gun fired without the trigger being touched and that Remington knew or should have known that it had designed and sold a defective weapon. The company continues to market the rifle worldwide despite “thousands of consumer complaints and more than 75 lawsuits” over injuries and deaths, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit accuses the company of negligence, contributing to a wrongful death and bodily injury, along with infliction of emotional distress.

Gary, who has successfully sued some of the country’s largest companies, said talks with Remington over a possible settlement are ongoing.

Bernie Coaxum of St. Louis, the dead girl’s grandfather, said the family hopes to persuade the company to make long-overdue changes to its rifle.

“This is about accountability. We want to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Coaxum said. “Jasmine had a special heart that brought life and light to all those around her. We don’t want to let her life be in vain.”

In the year after the shooting, the family and civil rights groups had described Jasmine’s death as a hate crime. Blackwell is white; the victims of the shooting are black.

Given the outcome of the state and federal investigations, Gary and Coaxum said the family no longer holds Blackwell responsible. The Columbus County district attorney announced in April that Maxwell would not be charged with any crime.

“I believe Mr. Blackwell is the conduit of this tragedy, not the cause,” Coaxum said.

Added Gary: “That gun was a gift, a gift that took a life. That should never happen. He didn’t intend it to happen.”

Gordon: 704-358-5095

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service