Thursday, August 22, 2013

One Year Later: The Long Range Peach House Gunfight


When I first heard the reports of a pistolero making a long shot, stopping a mass murder and saving the life of a police officer a year ago, I knew that I would work to find the details if the possibility were offered. I found that opportunity and was able  to answer many of the questions that came to mind at the time. After I had interviewed Vic Stacy, I told him that I would wait until the Grand Jury  delivered a no bill before writing about what happened. This is the story of the Peach House Gunfight . . .

Vic Stacy heard the shots while he was watching a movie on the Sunday afternoon of July 29, 2012. He thought someone was shooting at the nearby small reservoir or “tank” as they’re called in Texas. Then the phone rang. It was his neighbor and friend who needed help. Armed help. There was a dead woman only feet from his doorstep and he asked Vic to bring a gun.

Early is a town of about 3,000 in the middle of Texas. The Peach House RV park is located five miles outside of town. It’s a small park with only a dozen spaces. When Charles Conner decided to go on a murder rampage, only six of the spaces were occupied. Conner was known for his irrational bursts of temper over minor events.

On the 29th that temper boiled over into murder over a dispute about dog droppings. Conner had been arguing with David Michael House, 58 and Valentina Martinez Calaci, 53. The couple owned two dogs and had arrived from Arizona a few weeks earlier. Conner left the two, went back to his fifth wheel trailer, procured a 9mm pistol and returned to the couple’s RV. There he shot House, who fell within 20 feet of the RV.

Space where the victim’s RV was parked

Valentina fled, but was pursued by Conner who shot her, too. She fell to the ground only feet away from the RV of the friend who called Stacy. Valentina had a cell phone in her hand, and had not yet died when Conner approached and fired another shot, execution style.

Valentina fled toward this RV, which Vic Stacy’s friend 
occupied. She fell about 15 feet past the front of the RV.

Conner then went back to the couple’s RV, shot and killed the two dogs and returned to his fifth wheel. That’s when Stacy received the call for help, grabbed a .357 stainless Colt Python with a six inch barrel and headed toward his friend’s RV.

Stacy pushed the pistol contained in a leather holster of his own making under his shirt so as not to draw attention to himself and went to his friend’s aid. As Stacy went out the door of his trailer, he passed a scoped Bushmaster AR-15 with a loaded 30-round magazine. He later reflected on that fact and said that maybe he should have grabbed the rifle, but said that as it turned out, the pistol was sufficient.

Bushmaster rifle that Vic Stacy passed as he headed out to help

Stacy arrived at his friend’s RV. He had seen Conner come out of his fifth wheel with a scoped lever action rifle. His friend told him that he thought that Conner had done the shooting. They saw Conner, rifle in hand, put a tree between himself and the park entrance as they heard an approaching siren. It was Seargent Steven Means of the Early Police Department. He turned into the Peach House RV park and stopped, little more than 50 feet from from where Conner stood behind a ten inch diameter elm tree.

Vic Stacy stands about where Charles Conner stood behind the elm. The 5th wheel rig behind him was Charles Conner’s.

Seargent Means’ car had barely come to a halt when Conner started shooting at him. Seargent Means took cover behind his squad car with an AR-15 variant and returned fire. The .223 bullets couldn’t penetrate the elm tree. At that point, Stacy decided to take direct action.

Approximate view that Seargent Means had of the scene. Conner would have been behind the elm. You can see that the truck tire is flat. It was hit by a .223 round.

A number of .223 rounds hit the elm, but did not penetrate.

While Conner had cover from Seargent Means’ AR-15, his flank was exposed to Stacy. Stacy rested the Python on the hood of his friend’s RV, cocked the hammer, and fired his first shot.

Stacy could clearly see Conner, framed on the left by the Elm and on the right by a utility pedestal. The elm was between Conner and Seargent Means. Valencia’s body was only 15 feet to Stacy’s right, the RV whose hood he was resting on was mostly to his left.

Vic Stacy’s view of the scene. You can make out the electrical pedestal, center to the right of the elm tree midway to Conner’s RV. The elm that Conner was to the left of, from this view, is framed between the electrical pedestal and the midway elm.

This view shows the situation through a telephoto lens. Conner was to the left to the elm that is framed by the electrical pedestal and the elm on the left.

Stacy had killed deer with the Python. It’s known as a very accurate handgun. He squeezed the trigger, and Conner went down with a solid hit to the thigh. Now on the ground, Conner worked the lever on his rifle and turned the scoped firearm toward Stacy. Seeing the threat, Stacy took cover behind the front wheel of his friends RV. The shot hit the ground, sending rock fragments flying, causing a minor cut on Stacy’s leg. He was wearing shorts.

Conner turned his attention back to Seargent Means, who was continuing to fire.

Stacy came back up over the RV hood and cocking the Python, fired four more times at the prone Conner, single action. Stacy counted his shots, as he didn’t want to run the revolver dry and didn’t have spare ammunition with him. He stopped with one round remaining. Seargent Means was also still firing. After Stacy fired the four shots, there was no more movement from Conner. One of Stacy’s shots had hit the framing elm tree dead center. Stacy thinks the other three shots hit Conner in the abdomen.

Stacy’s .357 round that hit the elm tree

In less than a minute, another officer with an AR had come up behind Stacy. Stacy placed his Python on the ground, and was handcuffed while the officers sorted out what happened. Stacy’s friend was also required to lie face down on the gravel, but wasn’t handcuffed. In about 15 minutes, Stacy was released, his Python was impounded and multiple officers and agencies were on the scene investigating.

The dark blood stain shows where Valentina’s body lay, only feet from where Stacy fired at Conner.

How far was the famous shot that put Conner on the ground? Vic Stacy had a 100 foot tape measure and he and I measured the shot. One hundred and sixty-nine feet, just over 56 yards. While this is only a third of the much-reported media figure of 165 yards, it’s still an impressive shot. Stacy still thinks he connected with three of the following four shots, but he wasn’t allowed near Conner’s body to find out. I haven’t seen the coroner’s report, so we don’t know for sure. With the Python and its remaining cartridge impounded, Stacy couldn’t say for certain at the time what brand of ammunition he was using.

Vic Stacy is a retired welder who currently works making leather products. He said that if people are interested in his leather products, he can be reached at (325) 998-1034. I asked if being a welder helped him as a shooter. He replied that both required care, planning and good control of your hands. He said that while he was raised a Christian, he hadn’t been going to church much lately but might start going more regularly now.

I was impressed with Stacy. He’s been a lifelong hunter and said that he picked up his shooting skills growing up on a farm near Gorman, Texas. He told me he started shooting at age seven or eight, with a .22. He has also participated in club-level competitions. He said that he’s as good a shot with a rifle as he is with a pistol, and that he regularly practices with his AR-15. He has no police or military experience in his 66 years, though he did say that he had often thought of enlisting in the Marine Corps. If I were the Marine Corps Commandant, I would enlist Vic Stacy as an honorary Marine. He showed the kind of judgement and cool consideration under fire that would be a credit to any Marine.

Some people have wondered about the possibility of collateral damage. The Peach House RV park isn’t exactly near the Empire State Building. Both Vic Stacy and Seargent Means had thick woods and/or Conner’s truck and fifth wheel trailer as their backstops. And neither the .223 nor the .357 rounds were able to penetrate through the common elm trees in the area.

Stacy’s 6-inch stainless Colt Python, similar to this one, was returned to him.

Vic Stacy and Seargent Means were subsequently “no billed” by the Grand Jury. When I talked to Vic on the phone a year after the shooting, he said that he was given an award by the Brownwood county Sheriff. He was also given an award by Governor Rick Perry.  That award was a little more substantial:  A custom made, LaRue OBR (Optimized Battle Rifle) and a case of ammunition.  From
Vic Stacy visited sheriff’s officials and showed them the LaRue OBR (Optimized Battle Rifle), often referred to as a “sniper rifle,” Stacy received in Austin. Gov. Rick Perry presented the 7.62 mm rifle to Perry in recognition of Stacy’s action at the July 29 triple-fatality shooting at an RV park.

The OBR runs over $3,000. A case of ammo for it might run $2,000.
This is the sort of story that legends are made of. It rivals many in the old west. I was privileged to talk to Vic and record the details and shed some light on what happened a year ago. I wonder how a mere blogger could have scooped the national media on a story like this.

Update: Here is part of  Sgt. Steven Means account.  From
Means' observations of the shooter lining up his sights directly at him had led the officer to conclude that the suspect had been responsible for those first rounds of the engagement. They were, however, the rounds of a guardian angel—Vic Stacy.

Stacy—a fellow Texan and proud gun owner—had retrieved his own handgun after 58-year-old Charles Conner's initial volley had been brought to his attention by another neighbor. From a trailer, Stacy watched as Conner lined up his rifle sights on Officer Means.

"I thought, 'He's fixin' to kill that boy'," Stacy told the Brownwood Bulletin afterward. "And that's why I squared off and hit him in the leg and knocked him down."

© 2013 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.


Anonymous said...

Excellent scoop on the MSM and thank you for taking the time to post this with such detail. Good learning experience for all of us.

I had wondered what had been the kick back from this event. Thank you again!

Semper Fi!

Dean Weingarten said...

You are welcome. I hope to do more stories in the future, but much depends on the opportunity offered.

Keith said...

Thanks for the write up. Its nice to see someone writing facts rather than headlines. I guess I'd better get back to the range cause I'm not sure I could make a 50 yard shot.

Thomas Kyle said...

Thanks for making the story very understandable and for helping recongnize a true hero..

Unknown said...

Well, great story and great job, Vic, but if it took more than a week for the cops to sort out what happened and give him his gun back, then that's way too long, and the lesson to be learned would be "If you help the police, you will not go unpunished for your help." Might be different if there was a living defendant to charge with a crime - so that's what I want to know - how long did it take to get his gun back?

Dean Weingarten said...

I do not know the exact date, but about two - three months.

Anonymous said...

Who was the 3rd fatality? Did I miss it?

Dean Weingarten said...

Charles Conner, the man who was the perpetrator. This seems to be the convention, now.

Anonymous said...

Great retelling of the story and photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

I agree with most of what you said as a younger man we had access to guns, gun safety classes and lots of hunting in Minnesota. Iris Valentina (Middle name she was born on Valentines day) Martinez Calaci was my sister. I find it disturbing to see the spot where she died complete with her blackened blood.

Richard Martinez

Dean Weingarten said...

I am sorry for your loss. It was a stupid, senseless killing. Unfortunately, we cannot predict who will be mentally ill to the point of senseless killing.

Gym said...

It's about time we get a story about why we as Americans and Free People, have the right to own guns. Because you just never know in this world of mentally disturbed, untreated men and woman, who is going to just lose their mind, and kill another human being. If it wasn't with a gun, it would have been with a knife, Axe, Car or Fire. It's not the guns that kill folks, it's this Governments lack of priorities, and taking care of the mentally deficient people left behind by Obama's bullshit "Legacy" of abuse of Power, Executive orders , "of legislation that will not pass the American process of a 3 party system", and his obvious love of the Jihadi Muslims, who want us all dead. "You know they really do want anyone who doesn't worship "Sharia Law" Dead.
He has put more muslims in High security positions, "for the Coup" he plans, than most folks can even dream.