GRINDSTONE, Pa. — A 21-year-old volunteer fire captain charged with fatally shooting a junior firefighter at a Pennsylvania fire station committed a “terrible accident” and is distraught over his friend’s death, the suspect’s attorney said Tuesday.
Attorney James Davis represents George Matis Jr., of Republic, who remained jailed on criminal homicide and reckless endangerment charges in the Sunday shooting of 16-year-old Parker Hess at the Republic Volunteer Fire Company.
Hess was shot when Matis removed his legally owned gun from a holster and it fired, striking Hess in the cheek, state police said in a criminal complaint. Investigators haven’t said whether the shooting was accidental, but Davis believes it was.
“Mr. Matis is distraught over all this,” Davis told The Associated Press. “This is a horrific incident and of course it’s our position that this was just a terrible accident.”
The homicide charge Matis faces allows prosecutors to pursue a murder conviction, but also voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, which occurs when a shooting was reckless or grossly negligent. Davis said he expects the case will be prosecuted under a manslaughter statute, but didn’t want to presume anything.
Davis said he and Matis want to express their sympathy to the Hess family and said the two were good friends.
The shooting occurred about 4 p.m. in an office at the fire station, where other members had gathered to prepare for the township’s Light Up Night holiday celebration, which was abruptly canceled.
Hess’ mother said her son “wanted to be a fireman all his life,” said Jeffrey Umbel, a fellow Republic volunteer. “He bought his helmet. He saved all his money up to buy his junior helmet.”
Hess turned 16 earlier this month and was a sophomore at Brownsville Area High School. School officials said counselors were to be available to students and staff.