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Case dismissed in tragic Tacoma child shooting

The tragic cases in early 2012 had everybody talking. Four children accidentally shot, just days or weeks apart, across the state. Two of the kids died. More than one year later, just one person has been convicted in all these cases and now, a judge in Tacoma has dismissed a manslaughter charge.

The rash of shootings started in February 2012 when Amina Bowman was shot and severely wounded after a classmate brought a gun to an elementary school in Bremerton.

Then, in March, a 3-year-old shot his older sister with a gun left in the family van by their father, a Marysville police officer.

Days later, in Tacoma, Eric Vita got out of his car to pump gas and placed his legal, loaded gun beneath the passenger seat. He didn’t want the same kind of problem he had at a different time when somebody called police because he went into a store with the gun in his waistband. Vita left his girlfriend in the car with two sleepy children. Vita’s attorney, Dave Gehrke, says the 3-year-old unbuckled and moved toward the front of the car.

“And the mom, in an abundance of caution, reaches over under the front passenger seat, gets the gun and puts it under her seat. Unfortunately, the child sees her do this.” At some point, the mom, Jahnisha McIntosh, left the car, Julio grabbed the gun, and killed himself.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist charged both McIntosh and Vita with second degree manslaughter because of their negligence.

“More specifically, the adults made the 3-year-old child aware of the loaded gun and then left the child unsupervised with the loaded gun.”

Gehrke filed a motion, in Pierce County Superior Court, claiming that there was no way that Vita could have anticipated that the boy’s mother would move the gun while the boy was watching. And because of heavily tinted windows, Vita couldn’t see what was going on inside the car as he pumped gas. Detectives confirmed that.

“And I told the judge, everything the prosecutor says is true [but] there’s not evidence of a crime by my client, Mr. Vita. The judge agreed and dismissed the manslaughter charge.”

The case against the mother, McIntosh, could end in a plea agreement.

“You’ve got to think the mother has suffered greatly, already,” said Lindquist, who could recommend a sentence below the standard range. “In a case like this, you want to have accountability, but you also want to approach it with compassion and fairness.”

In the other cases, the trial of the Marysville police officer ended in a hung jury and there was no re-trial. He was fired. No charges were filed against a Spokane police officer whose daughter shot herself in the leg with his gun in April, 2012.

In Kitsap County, the third degree assault trial of the gun owner in the school shooting case is on hold pending an appeal. Jamie Chaffin, the mother of the boy who took the gun to school, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm.

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