Holiday Craziness

Last Thanksgiving weekend in Florida, we received a stark reminder that insanity never takes a vacation; this time it was road rage. Such cases underscore why it is so important to be alert at all times, no matter what the season.

Thankfully, no one was killed, although the victims, a 37-year-old man and 17-year-old woman, are recovering from wounds described as “minor injuries” by medical personnel. This was surprising, given that their Chevy Impala was found to have suffered about a dozen bullet holes, mostly along the right (passenger) side.

Over the years, I’ve investigated (and written about) a fair number of road rage cases, and it is extremely rare that so many rounds are fired. Most such incidents involve no actual gunfire, and, as a result, end up in “brandishing” or “assault with a deadly weapon” charges. However, there certainly have been road rage incidents that did turn deadly.

The suspect in this case fled the scene, but the Florida State Highway Patrol said surveillance video identified a vehicle that had been in the area and matched the victims’ description. As a result, on Sunday, they were able to arrest Kwanza Jermaine Donald, 33, the driver in the grey Toyota Camry, as the man who opened fire a day earlier on the Florida Turnpike’s southbound lanes, near Winter Garden.

Troopers said that a handgun was eventually found in Donald’s 2003 Toyota Camry. During questioning, Donald claimed that he fired his weapon in self-defense because “someone was trying to kill him,” officers wrote in an arrest report. He told police the victim’s vehicle resembled one that had been trying to shoot at him in Texas and Georgia.

According to CBS local news: “Upon his arrest, Donald confessed to police that he fired three shots at the vehicle and didn’t know the victims. Donald also admitted that he hadn’t had much food or sleep lately and was dehydrated. Mr. Donald rambled on about people trying to kill him, but could produce no viable evidence to support his claim,” the report said.

Most people unfamiliar with the psychological dynamics of a high-stress encounter would likely roll their eyes at the apparent discrepancy between Mr. Donald’s “shot-count” and the number of bullet holes in the victims’ vehicle. But such failures to accurately remember the number of shots fired is actually a common phenomenon in violent shootouts.

Even more interesting is that almost no one remembers firing more shots than they actually did; they invariably recall fewer. The reason is influence of tachypsychia, a neurological condition that alters the perception of time, especially during a traumatic event. In the case of Mr. Donald, it is difficult to say for sure.

But note that this is yet another reason to avoid saying anything about the event to police until your attorney is with you. For example, suppose immediately after a defensive encounter, you nervously started babbling to arriving police, and told them that you “fired three times.” If it turns out that you actually fired half a dozen shots, and the case goes to court, prosecutors will use such “inconsistencies” to attack you for lying.

On the plus side, Donald has now been charged with two counts of attempted murder, and given the evidence, he is unlikely to be spending future Thanksgivings at home anytime soon. But unfortunately, he is not alone. So stay alert this holiday season. There are more unstable lunatics out there.