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Guns were for shooting rats, lawyers says

March 20, 2002|BY KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

HAGERSTOWN - An attorney for a Boonsboro business owner charged with carrying a weapon while driving a tractor told a Washington County Circuit judge Tuesday that his client needed the gun for protection and to shoot rats.

Gerald Edward Downs II, 45, of 19835 Old Shepherdstown Pike, on Tuesday pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court in Hagerstown to transporting a handgun in a vehicle.

Police alleged that on June 5, 2001, Downs, who operates Crystal Grottoes, was driving a farm tractor on Md. 34. Officers searched the tractor and found two loaded guns, police said.

Washington County Circuit Judge Donald Beachley delayed sentencing pending a pre-sentence investigation and a related pending case in which Downs is charged with assaulting his brother.

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Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Steve Kessell said Tuesday that in exchange for Downs' plea, the state agreed to drop charges of reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and weapons charges.

Defense attorney John Corderman disputed police reports that alleged Downs was drinking the night of the incident. He said Downs suffers from a sleep disorder and was groggy from lack of sleep, not alcohol.

Downs carries weapons with him while he secures his property because it is in an isolated area, Corderman said. He said Downs used the weapon on the night in question to shoot "varmints."

"He was shooting at rats in the area," said Corderman.

Maryland State Police and Washington County Sheriff's deputies went to Downs' residence at 12:10 a.m. after receiving a report of an armed man riding a farm tractor in an intoxicated state, police reports said.

When asked about the incident, Downs told the judge that he fought with his father and brother after learning they provided alcohol to a mentally handicapped employee.

Corderman said that Downs' brother may have called in a misleading report of an armed man driving a tractor because he was mad that Downs made him leave the property over their dispute.

According to court records, police saw a farm tractor turn from Downs' property onto Md. 34.

Moments later, several shotgun blasts were heard and a muzzle flash was seen coming from the grounds of Crystal Grottoes, followed by a shot from a handgun, police said.

The tractor returned to Md. 34 westbound and was surrounded by police.

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