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Man who carried gun into hospital enters guilty plea

February 15, 2002

Man who carried gun into hospital enters guilty plea



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI
kimy@herald-mail.com


A Pensacola, Fla., man whose handgun discharged four times inside a Washington County Hospital elevator with two other people aboard entered a plea Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court.

Freddie Lee Harris, 59, of 1609 Bainbridge Ave., pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment before Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright.

Wright sentenced him to one year in jail on each count, with the sentences to be served consecutively. He had already served a year in jail while awaiting trial and will be credited for time served.

"The worst part of the case was how frightened the witnesses were," said Assistant Washington County States Attorney Gina Cirincion.

When asked why he carried a gun, Harris told Wright he was hauling a load of electronics and needed it for protection against a possible hijacking.

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Defense Attorney Mary Riley said Harris went to the hospital in February 2001 for a bowel obstruction. He was also suffering from alcohol withdrawal but did not tell his doctors.

"He was paranoid and psychotic" as a result, said Riley.

It was during this delusional period that Harris decided he wanted to leave the hospital although he had not been discharged, she said.

Cirincion said Harris used nail clippers to cut his intravenous line and then put on his street clothes.

Registered Nurse Cheryl Harvey Hoover saw Harris walking to the elevator and followed him while other personnel notified security. As Hoover and Harris rode in the elevator to the main floor, she tried to convince him to stay in the hospital, Cirincion said.

Harris told Hoover he wanted to call his mother. Cirincion said officials later learned his mother was dead.

When they reached the main floor, hospital security guard Thomas Thompson got in the elevator and all three rode to the seventh floor, where Harris had been treated.

During the ride, Thompson saw Harris reach into his gym bag and grab a weapon.

Thompson, a former police officer, wrestled with Harris and the gun discharged four times in the elevator. No one was hit.

Harris was subdued and later treated for scrapes and bruises.

Harris originally was charged with two counts each of attempted first-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and one count each of use of a firearm in a felony and discharging a firearm in the city limits.

The attempted first-degree murder charges later were dropped.

On Thursday morning, Harris at first pleaded not criminally responsible to the remaining charges.

After hearing opening statements and partial testimony from Hoover, Harris changed his plea to guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment.

In exchange for his plea, the remaining charges were dismissed.

"Once you are released what are your plans?" Wright asked Harris.

"Go back to the only profession I know. That's truck driving," Harris said.

"Don't come back here, please - especially on the highway," said Wright.

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