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Man who killed ex-girlfriend had long history of violence

Police say Antonio Hernandez shot Tracey Spriggs then himself

Police say Antonio Hernandez shot Tracey Spriggs then himself

October 17, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The warning shots were fired 10 years ago.

But, for whatever reason, Tracey Spriggs couldn't escape the apparent violent tendencies of Antonio Hernandez.

Police say Hernandez shot Spriggs, his estranged girlfriend, several times Sunday morning before he committed suicide. Spriggs died on the way to the hospital.

"It is a tragic set of circumstances," Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said Monday.

On July 16, 1996, Spriggs told police that Hernandez fired a rifle at the 1985 Chevrolet Camaro she was backing out of his driveway, Berkeley County Magistrate Court records show.

Her 5-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were in the car with her at the time, according to a complaint filed by (former) Sheriff's Deputy D.W. Messick.

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Two bullets struck the Camaro on the driver's side front fender, Messick reported. One penetrated the vehicle just above the tire. The other left a dent at about the same spot, said Messick, who charged Hernandez with a felony count of wanton endangerment with a firearm.

A warrant for Hernandez's arrest was issued by Joan V. Bragg on Aug. 8, 1996, but nearly three years passed before Hernandez was detained March 5, 1999, records show.

Soon after Hernandez was arraigned, he waived his right to a preliminary hearing in Magistrate Court and the case was "bound over" to Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Once there, the case was dismissed and no indictment was returned by a grand jury, Games-Neely confirmed.

"We threw it out for some reason," said Games-Neely, who was unable to definitively say what happened in the case.

She speculated that either the officer or the victim did not take part in the grand jury proceedings, a behind-closed-doors presentation of the state's case to sequestered jurors.

But Messick did write in his report that he had taken a written statement from Spriggs about the incident and photographs were taken of the vehicle damage.

Three years after Hernandez was arrested on the outstanding warrant for wanton endangerment, police were dispatched to the couple's home at 31 Crestview Drive for a report of a domestic situation, court records show.

On July 24, 2002, Spriggs told Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy S.J. Vigh that an argument between she and Hernandez turned into a physical altercation.

Spriggs met Vigh at a nearby convenience store and told him that Hernandez grabbed her right arm and then "tore her shirt almost completely off her body," records show.

A warrant was issued later that day for Hernandez's arrest on a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery, records show.

He was not arraigned on the charge until Nov. 6, 2004, well past the one-year statute of limitations that is required to be met in misdemeanor cases. The charge was dismissed 30 days after Hernandez's arrest at the behest of (former) assistant prosecutor Joshua Henline, records show.

Games-Neely said that many times victims of domestic violence "just don't follow through" with taking advantages of the services provided by agencies like the Shenandoah Women's Center.

"I think the women's shelter has done a very good job with this ... and (the victims) just won't leave," Games-Neely said.

Though somewhat unsettled upon learning how the charges against Hernandez were handled in the past, Shenandoah Women's Center director Ann Smith would not assign blame to anyone.

"We're out there, too," Smith said. "There's probably other things we can be doing."

According to the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a death like Spriggs' has occurred in the state on an average of once a week since July, Smith said.

"The numbers of incidents seem to be increasing scarily," said Smith, who hopes to meet with the prosecuting attorney and law enforcement leaders to see what more can be done.

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