He Killed a Pregnant Mom—but He Still Gets a Gun
A Florida man who claimed to have sworn off guns after shooting and killing a pregnant woman and her unborn son less than two years ago was arrested on Friday morning for drunkenly firing a shotgun in public, in an effort to teach a child “how to shoot.”
William DeHayes, 37, accidentally killed 25-year-old Katherine Hoover, at his home in Brooksville, Florida on July 26, 2014. DeHayes had been showing off his gun collection and used the Western-style draw he had been practicing (“like a cowboy would” he told police) to hand the antique revolver to Carson Hoover, Katherine's husband. Though he thought the gun was unloaded, DeHayes told police the gun misfired and shot Katherine in the temple. She died at the hospital, and her baby, whom she had named Rehlin, died soon after.
DeHayes was never charged for Katherine Hoover’s death. In a letter explaining the state’s decision not to prosecute, assistant state attorney Brad Magrino wrote, “There is no evidence to suggest the [sic] DeHayes had a careless or reckless indifference to the safety of the victims when the firearm discharged.”
Since Katherine’s death, her mother, Donna Bryan, has fought to have her daughter’s killer prosecuted, pleading her case in the media and online with a petition that has over 13,700 signatures. Bryan has watched similar cases reported in the news and each time, sees a prosecutor unwilling to bring charges—like in December, when a man was sentenced to three years in prison for a nearly identical shooting: he killed his sister at a family cookout while reenacting a gunslinging scene from the western film “Tombstone.”
In letters to Florida Governor Rick Scott and Hernando County State Attorney Brad King, Bryan has argued that DeHayes’ gross negligence should be criminal, but so far, officials have declined to revisit Katherine’s case.
“I am livid that my daughter and grandson were killed,” Bryan told The Daily Beast.
“[DeHayes] gets away with killing two people. They let him go, they gave him back his guns. And now he’s arrested for shooting a gun in public? Who’s next to die? This man is a danger to society. He shouldn’t have guns.”
In a previous interview with The Daily Beast, DeHayes said the decision not to prosecute him had been a fair one. “There’s a difference between an accident and someone knowingly hurting someone else,” he said. “I’ve learned a lesson.”
DeHayes also said Hoover’s death had left him traumatized. He said he hadn’t touched a gun since the incident and would never own one again.
“Ma'am, I do not even touch guns,” he told The Daily Beast in March 2015. “Guns are part of my life. I’ve been around guns since I’ve been in my single digits. Now I won’t go anywhere near one. I relive that day, July 26, 6:30 p.m. every day, every hour of my life. I hear pops, backfires, people shooting behind me, and I’m scared shitless. I still smell the gunpowder from the gun smoke. I cannot be around them. I’ve gotten rid of every gun I got. And I will not allow any type of gun—even a BB gun—in my house anymore.”
Whatever lesson DeHayes learned was apparently short-lived.
Roughly a year after the return of his guns by the Hernando Sheriff’s Department, DeHayes was arrested for discharging a 12-gauge shotgun in the front yard of the mobile home park where he resides with his girlfriend and her 16-year-old daughter. According to the arrest report, an officer responded to a complaint from a neighbor saying that DeHayes was firing a shotgun into the air. When the officer arrived at 10:42 p.m., DeHayes came to the door drinking a bottle of beer, according to the police report. The officer noted he had bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech, and the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. When asked how much he had to drink that day, police say DeHayes replied that he couldn't keep count but that he had been drinking Crown Royal straight from the bottle and beer since noon. DeHayes said he had been showing his girlfriend's daughter ”how to shoot,” and “bragged that he knew how to handle firearms and had been shooting guns all his life,” according to the officer's report.
The officer noted that this was a residential neighborhood and the house was right next to his neighbor's house just 20 yards away. The officer then asked where the bullets would go when DeHayes fired them into the air and to DeHayes said “he knew they would come straight down, but showed no signs of concern for his neighbors or anyone else in the area.”
In the 2014 interview with the Hernando County Sheriff in the investigation of Katherine Hoover’s death, DeHayes told an investigator, “The shotgun goes off when it wants to. I almost blew my damn head off twice.”
Officers responding to Katherine Hoover’s killing in 2014 did not test DeHayes for alcohol, or drugs, but he volunteered that he had taken a number of prescription drugs an hour before the shooting—methadone and Loratab, opioids for pain and a muscle relaxer, to treat his “severe back problems.” DeHayes denied abusing his prescriptions however, and officers reported his behavior didn’t suggest he was under the influence at the time of the shooting.
To Bryan, this weekend’s event are just further evidence that her daughter’s death was no accident and more of a reason to push for DeHayes’ eventual prosecution.
“I’m not going to stop,” she said. “That would be giving up on my child.”
For now, DeHayes is being charged with a misdemeanor. Barring a felony, his right to gun ownership will be unaffected.