Relatives, subdivision respond to civil suit in Thanksgiving shooting

rlurye@islandpacket.comOctober 23, 2013 

The man charged in connection with a fatal Thanksgiving Day shooting in 2010 claims his slain nephew was solely responsible for his own injuries, according to his response to a civil lawsuit.

Tracey Piotrowski, the widow of James Piotrowski, filed suit June 14 against Richard Santee, the uncle charged with attempted murder in the Nov. 25, 2010, death of his nephew. Also named in the lawsuit are Santee's wife, Carolyn, and the Sheldon gated community where the shooting took place.

In August and September, the defendants responded to the suit.

The Santees admitted to drinking several alcoholic beverages the night of the incident and keeping a loaded gun in their Bray's Island Plantation home. However, they say James Piotrowski was negligent, careless and reckless by drinking excessively, failing to act "as a reasonable and prudent person" under the circumstances of the evening, and threatening and attacking the defendants.

James Piotrowski was attending a family gathering when he was shot by his uncle, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigation. A security guard, who arrived just as Piotrowski had grabbed the gun, fired the fatal shot. Investigators later cleared him of wrongdoing.

Tracey Piotrowski's lawyer, William Applegate, said the Santees put guests at risk by inviting them into the home.

"We anticipate we may uncover some other details," Applegate said.

In its response, Bray's Island Plantation denied the lawsuit's claims that its actions brought about James Piotrowski's death.

Tracey Piotrowski accused the plantation of failing to properly train its security guards, to follow security policies or to use reasonable care. It also claims the plantation guard used unnecessary and excessive force, discharged his weapon before assessing a chaotic or hostile situation, and prevented law enforcement from intervening with sufficient information.

Bray's Island denied all of Piotrowski's claims in its response.

No date is set for pre-lawsuit mediation, a required step in South Carolina, according Mike Macloskie, an attorney for Richard Santee. The couple called for the lawsuit to be dismissed and denied several of Piotrowski's assertions, including that both became "grossly" intoxicated.

Richard Santee was charged with attempted murder in March 2011 and could stand trial by next March, according to a spokesman for the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office. A date cannot be set until the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division finishes evidence testing that began Oct. 7, Macloskie said.

Daniel Brownstein, a spokesman for the solicitor's office, would not comment.

"The problem is with the facilities used to conduct some of these tests because they are unbelievably backlogged," Macloskie said. "There's really no way to speed (the criminal trial) up."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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