Louisa deputies criticized following courageous acts

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

LOUISA, VA (WWBT) - How could Louisa Sheriff's deputies visit a house 23 times and not do anything to prevent Sunday's mass shooting? It's a simple question that has a complicated answer.

Sheriff's deputies were quite familiar with the 1.5 acre Sponaugle trailer home on Twigg Drive. They knew just about everyone on a first-name basis, a relationship that happened to form over 23 calls for service since 2001.

"They range from barking dogs, to kids arguing, to just loud music, loud noise," said Maj. Donald Lowe of the Louisa Sheriff's Office.

None of the visits, however, were violent. Some didn't even require a formal report.

"You can't go to a residence and say, you know, we've been here more than twice this year, so we have a crystal ball that says we have to arrest you because we think you're gonna be a mass murderer," Lowe said, adding, "We're here to protect the rights of people, not violate them."

Charles Sponaugle opened fire Sunday on his family, killing his own son and nephew, just moments before Louisa Sheriff's deputies could get there for yet another visit.

And it all happened so incredibly quickly. Once the Sheriff's deputies drove down the road and arrived at the house, gunfire was exchanged. Sponaugle was down on the ground, dead, within 18 seconds.

The Medical Examiner said today that Sponaugle died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, the final chapter in a troubled life.

Louisa Circuit Court papers reveal the twice-divorced alcoholic drank as early as first grade, leading eventually to DWI and drug offenses.

But more than chemicals, family members believe Sponaugle was consumed by rage, over who really deserved to call the L-shaped trailer their home. The land had been deeded to Sponaugle and his five siblings following the death of their mother.

Relatives were critical of law enforcement, openly asking NBC 12 why more wasn't done to keep a family feud from ending this way.

"I think by nature, people have a tendency to say, 'Could you have prevented that? Could you have seen it coming?' But in a case like this, it's really hard to predict something like that," Lowe said.

Many other details remain secret because the Louisa Commonwealth's Attorney must still decide if the deputies were justified in shooting Sponaugle, who authorities say fired at the deputies after shooting a total of six family members.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.