St. Clair Twp. gun fight in Butler County court

The gun battle in St. Clair Twp. is heading to court this week as trustees try to temporarily shut down the Lake Bailee shooting range over safety concerns.

After a bullet allegedly flew 5 feet from Berneice Wright’s face while she was watching television in her living room, the township leaped into action, passing an emergency resolution to temporarily shut down the shooting range.

The incident occurred on April 12 in the 1900 block of Gephart Road, about a mile from the Lake Bailee Recreational Park and Gun Range.

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“This big boom went off kind up over my head and I discovered it was a bullet had come through my front window,” Wright said. “It hit a candle on my table which was on the other side of me, shattered it all to pieces.”

Since then, motions have been flying on Butler County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer Muench-McElfresh’s docket. First came an injunction request shutting down the range until safety features — they also want alcohol disallowed there — are in place. Now there is an application for a temporary restraining order and a request for the judge visit the range.

“My instructions are to make it safe,” Township Solicitor Gary Sheets said. “(And) what I think the township means by make it safe is simply this — when you fire a bullet on that range at a target, the bullet stays on the range.”

Lake Bailee owner Jesse Von Stein insists there is no way a bullet traveled that distance, through a host of man-made and natural obstacles and went through the window.

“They’re going to make me do this and make me do that, when we didn’t do anything wrong,” Von Stein said about the resolution. “That makes me angry.”

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McElfresh is holding a hearing July 3 about the temporary restraining order — the township wants the judge to stop Von Stein from making any changes to the range while the court proceedings are ongoing — and the other matters.

“My trustees think that something’s going on; they’ve seen dirt being moved,” Sheets said. “They have not been told what it is, what its purpose is. We’re just trying to keep things from getting worse.”

Von Stein said he is putting back overhead baffles on the two ranges that he removed a year ago and doing the normal maintenance he does every year. Von Stein invited the Ohio Division of Wildlife out to the property to make safety suggestions. The baffles were recommended — but not required — in a letter by Matt Neumeier the ODNR shooting sports coordinator who made the site visit.

“We don’t need them, we don’t have to have them, there’s no law that says we have to have to them, there’s no reason for me to even have them,” Von Stein said. “But it’s just not that big a deal to fight with them on it.”

Sheets said he is hoping McElfresh will agree to a field trip on Tuesday to the shooting range, “for all of to just go and look what’s going on there.”

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