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New Year’s Good Deed Ends In Tragedy

January 2, 1995

PURDY, Wash. (AP) _ When Christopher West and two buddies stopped to help a man after a car wreck, it didn’t seem like a dangerous chore to take the man home and help him get into his house.

But the man’s scared 13-year-old son was waiting inside with a loaded rifle and West, 18, was shot dead for his trouble.

``It’s a tragic thing. It breaks my heart,″ said Marge Marcum, a convenience store clerk in nearby Key Center. ``My son used to play with him (West) _ played pool, go out to McDonald’s. It could have been my son along then with him.″

It was New Year’s Eve. West and two friends tried to help James Daus get into the locked home after they gave him a lift. Daus couldn’t find his keys when they arrived, said Terry Wilson, a Pierce County sheriff’s detective.

The son, who was not identified, had grown worried waiting for Daus to return home from a tavern. The boy saw a white pickup pull up to the run-down, isolated home in woods 10 miles south of Purdy, about 30 miles southwest of Seattle.

By the dim light of a porch lamp ``he saw it wasn’t his dad’s car, so he called 911,″ Wilson said. There had been thefts at the home recently, the deputy said.

As three strangers got out and approached the house, the boy dropped the phone, disconnecting the call, went into his father’s bedroom and loaded a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle.

The emergency dispatcher called back and the boy said someone was breaking in.

Outside, Daus told the three men no one was home and gave them permission to break a window so he could get in, Wilson said. One of them picked up an ice chest from the deck and hurled it through a kitchen window, sending glass flying over the room, Wilson said.

The boy, standing about 12 feet away in the doorway of his father’s bedroom, then opened fire, striking West in the chest, face and shoulder, Wilson said.

One of the men, Dan Wehmeier, told Seattle’s KIRO-TV that bullets ``flew past me and then Chris made a sound. I thought we were all off the deck and safe, and then I looked back and Chris was just laying there.

``He was just trying to help somebody. He didn’t know anything was going to happen. I feel sorry for him, that he died that way,″ Wehmeier said.

The boy dropped the rifle when the men explained they were only trying to help his father.

At the house Monday, the broken window was boarded up. Glass shards and blood stains remained on the deck and the blue-and-white ice chest sat beneath the window. A boy who appeared to be about 13 answered the door, said he wouldn’t talk to a reporter and closed the door.

The boy’s 16-year-old sister, Dawn Daus, earlier described her brother as ``totally crushed.″

``He thinks he’s to blame. He just sits there and he cries. It’s just something that should not have happened,″ she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

``Nobody will understand. He will go to school and people will tease him. He was just doing what he thought was right,″ she said.

Wilson said he wouldn’t file charges against the boy but wanted to question the father about why he told the three men no one was home.

``What he (the boy) did was what any prudent person would do under the circumstances,″ Wilson said.

West’s mother, Shirley, said her son played the clarinet and had a quick sense of humor. He dropped out of high school last spring but earned an equivalency diploma and was working at his father’s vacuum cleaner sales and repair store.

The shooting is the latest in which innocent people have been shot to death by mistake. Among others: A 14-year-old girl was fatally shot in November by her father in their home near West Monroe, La., when she popped out of a closet to scare him as a prank. No charges were filed.