Tech track athlete accidentally shot

By David Skinner
News Editor

A freshman track athlete was the victim of the accidental discharge of a .45 caliber handgun at the 8th Street Apartments late Tuesday night.

According to GTPD Chief Jack Vickery, the incident occurred a little before midnight in sophomore football player Dan Witherspoon's apartment. Witherspoon had borrowed the weapon and had it in his dorm room. His acquaintance Stephen Smartt, a non-Tech student, was handling the gun and had apparently cocked the hammer. Witherspoon saw him playing with the firearm and told him to put it down. While trying to uncock it, Smartt inadvertently discharged the weapon. The bullet went through the opposite wall, passed through the thigh of Zaneta Johnson, and lodged itself in a chair.

One of Witherspoon's next-door neighbors, Bob Robertson, was in his room studying when the shot rang out.

"I heard a loud bang or pop noise. I then heard a girl screaming, `Oh my God, Jason,' over and over. I also heard a man's voice say something like, `What the hell are you doing here?' It then quieted down a little bit," he remarked.

After the shot was fired Smartt ran out of the apartment.

"But once he thought about it, he called the police and turned himself in," said Vickery.

After the police arrived at the scene, there was some initial conflict as to what actually happened. For example, at first one of those involved said that the gun had been brought up from Witherspoon's car without his knowledge. The official report, however, will state that the weapon was indeed in his dorm room.

Johnson was rushed to Piedmont Hospital for treatment and was released a few hours later.

The police took Witherspoon and Smartt into custody, charged them with possession of a firearm on school property, and released them on their own recognizance pending a hearing. Witherspoon was required to vacate his apartment by 5 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. He was also suspended from the football team pending further investigation.

"The incident was very unfortunate and irresponsible on the part of Dan Witherspoon. Even though Dan did not discharge the weapon, actions like this will not be tolerated in the Georgia Tech football program," said head coach George O'Leary.

Witherspoon refused to comment on the accident.

"[Witherspoon] had absolutely no reason to have that gun," said GTPD Sergeant Randy Crawford.

"It's not just against Tech's conduct code--it's against the law," he explained.

According to her mother, Johnson is "doing all right." She is currently on crutches and does not know if the injury will affect her ability to run track in the spring.

The Department of Housing will initiate a disciplinary complaint to start the judicial process. The Dean of Students will also take action pursuant to the conduct code.

"The purpose [of residence halls] is to create an environment in which students can study or sleep in safety. Students are not to have weapons. The halls should be a haven from all that," commented Terry Sichta, Director of Housing.


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Copyright © 1995 by Stephanie L. Goff, Editor and by the Student Publications Board