Saturday, March 13, 2021

Iowa Gun Battle: Four Wounded, One Killed, Confusion, Bad Judgement, and Alcohol


Image from google maps, cropped, scaled and text added by Dean Weingarten

On 30 May, 2020, a gun fight ensued at Sunset Village Mobile Home Park  in Hiawatha, Iowa. At the end, one person was dead, three others were wounded, and 25 shots had been fired. The gun fight happened at the intersection of Sunset Lane and Wright Drive, a little before high noon.

The trouble started when Selena Straka, who was living in the trailer park with her sister, her brother-in-law, and her boyfriend, Tyler Bell, told her sister she had been walking in the trailer park, alone, when she was attacked by two unknown men. The brother-in-law started looking for the attackers, but no police were called.

Selena called her boyfriend, Tyler Bell, and told him about the attack. Tyler was with his twin brother, Terrone Bell. Terrone Bell has a carry permit, which is required to legally carry a handgun in public in Iowa. 

Tyler did not have a permit. Terrone had two handguns.  The two brothers decided to travel to the trailer park. When they arrived, they parked on Sunset Lane. It was a fateful decision. The gun battle would occur very close to where Terrone Bell's car was parked. Terrone loaned Tyler one of his handguns, a 9mm Hi-point.  

The twins talked to Selena's brother-in-law about the attack. The brother-in-law returned home; the twins, Terrone and Tyler, decided to look for the attackers. 

One of the twins was seen loading a handgun and tucking it into his waist band. The two started to walk through the trailer park, yelling words to the effect "they were gonna get somebody". The combination of a visible gun with threatening shouts was to have deadly consequences. 

Tyler reached his vehicle, parked at the residence he shared with Selena, and her sister and brother-in-law, at 76 Joanne Lane. He may have realized it was illegal for him to carry the pistol without a permit. He placed the 9mm Hi-Point in his vehicle.

The pair had been observed by a resident of the trailer park, Arnold Lusk. Lusk lived on the same street as Tyler. Lusk had observed one of the brothers carrying a gun.  

Shortly after Tyler had placed the Hi-Point in his vehicle, Arnold Lusk was approached by Joshua Lathrop. From the investigative report filed by Jerry A. Vander Sanden, Linn County Attorney: 

Shortly thereafter, Arnold Lusk, who also lived on Joanne Lane, was approached by Joshua Lathrop, a resident of the trailer park Lusk advised Lathrop he had seen subjects walking with guns through the trailer park and warned to be careful because one of the two had a gun. About that time, Lathrop yelled at Chris Mundy about guns being displayed in the trailer park. Mundy described Lathrop as "sh**faced" and "in the mood to fight". 

About that time, Tyler and Terrone Bell began walking back down Wright Drive in the direction of where Terrone had parked his vehicle. Lathrop yelled at them demanding to know what they wanted and what they were looking for. Arnold Lusk again warned Lathrop to be careful because one of them had a gun. 

Terrone Bell continued walking and was confronted by Joshua Lathrop at the intersection of Sunset and Wright Drive. Several witnesses described an argument that ensued between the two lasting several minutes. 

During the argument, Lathrop was heard demanding to know why Terrone was in the trailer court, why he had a gun and demanding to see it. Bell responded by advising he didn't need to show his weapon and that he had a legal permit to carry (which was later verified). The argument intensified as Lathrop demanded to know why Bell was in the trailer court insisting that he leave. Bell was heard advising Lathrop he had a legal permit to carry and was trying to leave but Lathrop was in his way. Bell's car was parked on Sunset Lane behind Lathrop. Essentially, Lathrop was between Bell and his vehicle. A resident of the trailer park yelled at Lathrop to let Bell get to his car.

As the argument escalated, driven by a combative Lathrop, who was later determined to have a blood alcohol level of .21, several other residents inserted themselves into the confrontation.  

All of them were on Sunset Lane, where Terrone Bell's car was parked. Sunset Lane runs East-West. 

Yvonne Ramsey and her nephew, Truman Harris, exited their trailer to the West of the ongoing confrontation. Tyler's car was parked in front of their trailer. Yvonne carried an aluminum baseball bat. 

Truman considered Joshua Lathrop a friend. On hearing that Terrone might have a gun, Truman Harris accessed his own .40 caliber Smith & Wesson, and started to approach Lathrop from behind. 

On the East, Chad Harris (no relation to Truman) also considered Joshua Lathrop a friend. When he heard a gun mentioned, he went into his trailer and came out with a 9mm Smith & Wesson. He then approached Terrone Bell from behind. 

While this was happening, Terrone's twin, Tyler, heard the commotion and ran to the aid of his brother .

About this time, Joshua Lathrop punched Terrone Bell hard in the face. The punch was so forceful it knocked Terrone backward.

At this point, witness accounts begin to show different views of the events.

All of the combatants were in place, essentially in an East to West line on Sunset Lane.  

The furthest west was Truman Harris, armed with a .40 S&W. He was behind Joshua Lathrop. The investigative report does not mention if Truman Harris was tested for blood alcohol.

Lathrop was drunk and combative. Lathrop is upset that Terrone Bell may be armed. Lathrop has just punched Terrone Bell in the face, hard.

The next, to the east, was Terrone Bell, facing west at Lathrop. Terrone Bell has a concealed 9mm pistol.  Behind Terrone is Chad Harris, who is armed with a 9mm pistol. Chad Harris was later determined to have an alcohol blood level of .162.

Tyler Bell is approaching the intersection, to the east of Chad Harris. 

It is unclear who fired first. It may have been Terrone Bell who drew his 9mm, he stated, after he saw Truman Harris running at him with Truman's .40 caliber pistol. It may have been Truman Harris, who claims he was shot at first. 

Both of the twins are hit multiple times. Truman empties his .40 caliber, which had 14 shots. 

In the 911 call made by Arnold Lusk, which was recorded, a sequence of 14 shots are heard, then a lull of 29 seconds; then an additional 11 shots. It is possible there were some 9mm shots in the first 14, and some .40 caliber shots in the second 11. It could not be forensically determined.

Chad Harris was hit in the initial barrage, and returned fire in the direction of Truman Harris. Terrone Bell fired in the direction of Joshua Lathrop and Truman Harris. Terrone Bell and Chad Harris fired a total of 11 rounds of 9mm.

Truman Harris said his leg was grazed by a bullet. He returned to his trailer and placed his .40 caliber pistol there. The bullet graze claim was not verified or dismissed in the investigative report.

Joshua Lathrop was hit in the heart and lungs by a bullet form Tyler Bell's 9mm, and in the arm with a bullet from Truman Harris' .40 caliber. 

Joshua Lathrop died at the scene. 

Terrone Bell was hit multiple times in the chest, abdomen, arms, and legs. He was in the hospital for three weeks. Medical records did not show any alcohol or drugs in his system.

Tyler bell was hit four times. He was hit in the right shoulder, right hip, right elbow, and left hand.  Medical records did not show any alcohol or drugs in his system.

Chad Harris was hit three times, in the right shoulder, the right buttocks, and the left thigh. Medical records  show an alcohol level of .162, about twice the legal limit to drive in Iowa.

None of the bullets hitting the twins or Chad Harris were recovered.  

A lengthy investigation was conducted by the Hiawatha Police Department, assisted by the Iowa State Patrol, the Cedar Rapids Police Department, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and the Linn County Sheriff's department. 

All armed survivors claimed they fired in self defense. 

The investigation determined the instigator of the situation was Joshua Lathrop, who was killed. 

Forensic evidence and witness accounts were inconclusive. They could not prove any other participant had not acted in self defense. 

One witness said she saw Lathrop reaching for Terrone's pistol. 

No charges were brought against the armed participants. All participants cooperated with the investigation. All considered themselves to be justified.

As in many Old West gunfights, the prosecutor ruled the shootings to be mutual combat. 

The only person to be charged in the gun battle will be Tyler Bell, for carrying a gun in public, without a permit.

Several lessons stand out. 

Report incidents to police. Do not roam about a community with a gun, shouting you are "gonna get someone". 

Being drunk and aggressive can get you kllled. It is a bad idea to confront someone you think is armed, prevent them from leaving, and punch them in the face. Many people have been killed with one punch to the head. It is a potentially deadly assault.

The investigation was unable to confirm the attack reported by Selena Straka.

There are many more details, which can be read on a pdf file from the Linn County Attorney's Office


©2020 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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