Tire blowout sends court for cover

May 05, 2004|GARY MOYERS

Everyone in a Boyle Circuit Court proceeding thought the worst Tuesday when one case was introduced with a bang much louder than Judge Darren Peckler's gavel.

The sound of a gunshot sent bailiffs rushing in front of the judge, attorneys diving for cover and spectators slouching behind the wooden chairs, including this reporter.

The blast turned out to be a tire on James Houston's wheelchair in the middle aisle of the spectators' area. Fleming was awaiting final sentencing on possession of a controlled substance.

"We absolutely thought it was the real thing," said court clerk Beth Brown, a 27-year employee at the courthouse. "In all my years of doing this, that's the worst I've ever been scared. We had officers reaching for guns and everyone else getting down, including me. It was very scary."


"It definitely had everyone moving," said Peckler, a former police officer. "For a split second, the old training took over and I started looking for the flash and feeling for the shock wave. As soon as I realized those things weren't happening, that the door wasn't falling in or anything, I knew it was something else."

At least one attorney dove under a table, and others in the courtroom scrambled for protection. Peckler said the thought of a real emergency is always in the back of court workers' minds.

"In this day and time, you always have the thought that something bad might happen," he said. "With the way our courthouses (in Boyle and Mercer counties) are built, there are only so many security precautions that can be taken. Naturally, in a courtroom, you hear a loud noise like that and your first thought is caution."

The courthouses in Boyle and Mercer counties have more than one entrance to the courtrooms, and there are no metal detectors in place.

"There just aren't many ways to make them more secure," said Peckler. "It's the way they're built."

Brown said she couldn't remember a similar incident in her years in the courtroom.

"We've had verbal confrontations, and even some people trying to throw punches, but never have we heard anything that sounded so much like a gunshot," she said. "It definitely was scary, and such a relief when we found out what it was. That made it almost funny, but the thought doesn't leave your mind."

Peckler said he thought court workers, including bailiffs and prison guards, reacted well to the perceived threat.

"They jumped right in and did their jobs," he said. "It's not funny, though we all laughed about it afterward, but even the prisoners (brought in for court from the Boyle and Lincoln jails) ducked. It definitely got everyone's attention."

In fact, when a bailiff wheeled in a prisoner in another wheelchair during the afternoon session, Brown told the court that he'd already checked the tires and everything was fine.

Houston, who was not eligible for probation because of an inactive parole status, was sentenced to a one-year term in a facility yet to be identified.

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