Wednesday, April 03, 2002 - LAKEWOOD - Three pranksters shot paintballs at pedestrians walking along the street Monday night until one of the victims fired back with a real gun, striking one of the paintball shooters in the head.
Jeremiah Witherwax, 21, was in the intensive-care unit Tuesday at St. Anthony Central Hospital.
Police believe Witherwax and two friends were driving in the 800 block of Oak Street about 8:45 p.m. Monday shooting paintballs from the cab of a pickup truck. They took aim from the truck and shot at two teenagers, believed to be about 15 or 16 years old. One of the teens fired back with a handgun, shooting Witherwax in the head, said police spokeswoman Stacie Oulton.
"There's no known relationship between them. This was just a random encounter," Oulton said.
Witherwax's two friends in the truck, Jeff Mace, 21, and Mace's 15-year-old brother, drove him to their mother's house and then set out for the hospital.
Panicking, they pulled into the West Metro fire station on Garrison Street.
Firefighters there were just heading out to a fire call, said West Metro spokeswoman Cindy Matthews, when one of the young people said, "Somebody's been shot."
Paramedics at the station found Witherwax with a gunshot wound to his right temple. "He was alert at the time, conscious, walking around," Matthews said.
Shooting paintballs on the street is illegal. In a 1999 Thornton case, paintball shooters were charged with battery, illegal discharge of a firearm and criminal mischief. Witherwax and the Mace brothers could face similar charges, authorities said.
"They could face charges down the line," Oulton said, "but right now the detectives are focused on the more serious crime of the shooting."
The incident recalls two high-profile cases in which teenagers videotaped themselves shooting bystanders with paintballs. In 2001, a group of Alaska teens shot several people with paintball guns in what authorities said was a hate crime. Two years earlier, three California teens shot pedestrians, cyclists and a homeless man pushing a cart.
Paintball assaults in Colorado have been rare. Oulton said there have been only one or two reports of attacks in Lakewood over the past three years. However, police receive 20 or 25 calls on paintball vandalism each year.
The balls are half-inch gelatin capsules filled with water-based paint. Markers - paintball jargon for guns - typically cost about $200, although high-end ones can cost $1,000.
Paintballs can cause injuries if used improperly, local shop owners said.
"I'd say a BB gun is more dangerous," said Sam Palumbo, owner of Denver Paintball. "But if it's dark out and somebody shoots you with a BB, a paintball or a real gun, it's gonna freak you out."
Enthusiasts say "backyard" paintball is widely played. But shooting people on the street is frowned upon by everyone, said Bryan Murphy, a manager at Paintball Adventures in Englewood.
"It's a shame people like that have to go and do this. That's straight-up wrong," Murphy said. "I'm really sorry for this kid who got shot, but what goes around comes around."
Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call Lakewood police at 303-987-7111.
Denver Post staff writer Ann Schrader contributed to this report.
A few months ago, a kid was shot, as a "prank" by a drive by shooter with a B-B gun in the back. He was pronounced dead, soon after. People have to realize, even pointing a squirt gun at someone CAN get you killed. On the other hand, what was a 16 year old boy doing with a handgun, walking the streets? Probably more to the story?