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Statement from the Range Owner Regarding the Recent Accidental Shooting

Since a lot of readers have been inquiring about it, I am publishing this statement by range owner Len Baxley in its entirety as it provides a great deal of detail on the recent shoot house accidental shooting involving trainer Sonny Puzikas. If anyone has any additional amplification regarding the incident or factual conflicting information please feel free to share it.

Hello,

My name is Len Baxley, and I am the Founder of the Texas Defensive Shooting Academy (TDSA), not to be confused with other TDSA’s. I started the original TDSA in Texas in 1995. The other TDSA firearm training organizations are located in Tulsa, Missouri, Kentucky and Canada. I trained them how to shoot, then taught them how to teach, then allowed them to use the “TDSA” name in a hand-shake business arrangement. With the exception of Kentucky, none of them are associated with me any longer, even though they still use the TDSA designation.

I am also the owner of the TDSA gun range, founded in 1995, located just outside the city of Ferris, Texas.

As many of you have already heard there was a tragic (non-fatal) accidental shooting at my range on Sunday, Nov. 4th 2012.

I have intentionally not commented on this incident for several reasons. I do not know if that decision has been a mistake or commenting now is the mistake.

I was not present when the incident occurred. I had just left the range. As range owner, Sonny Puzikas gave me his account of what happened. So in the interest of correcting the inaccurate information I will tell you his account and I will follow it up with my personal comments.

Just a short lead in for everyone to understand how it got to this point;

Sonny is a range member of TDSA. He asked to rent a portion of the TDSA range for a two-day class. He expected a large number of students and he advised he had one main assistant instructor, Maxim Franz, and several other assist instructors. I estimated there to be two to four extra assistant instructors. But I am ONLY estimating that number.
The first day was static type shooting, which I observed while I was doing my other range owner duties. Other then YELLING at a few students for forgetting to wear their glasses I personally observed no safety issues. The second day was going to be using a section of the range we call the city. The city is a 200-yard long live fire area with multiple ballistic rooms. Due to heavy rains Saturday night that section of the range was not usable so I built a three room shoot house for them in the front of the range. I closed down the range so the class would not have to worry about regular range members getting in their way.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that everyone know I inquired of Sonny and Maxim as to how they wanted to use the shoot house. At that time both Sonny and Maxim stated they were going to run each student through the shoot house one at a time while the instructor held on to the shooter’s belt. They then said, and that will only happen after several hours of dry runs (empty/unloaded) firearms. After hearing their training plan I agreed to them using the shoot house.
Skipping back to day two. After building the three room shoot house that morning, several hours past. I later observed Maxim conducting exactly what they had previously described. Maxim appeared to have half the class and was teaching them how to maneuver through the shoot house with unloaded guns. I DID OBSERVE GENE (Asst. Instructor that was shot) in the room with the class while Maxim was conducting the training.
Fast forward to late in the day, sometime past 5:00pm. I know this because it was getting dark. With the recent time change, the class was now getting into the darkness due to the large class. I advised Sonny I was leaving the range. Sonny then said, “We promised them a live fire run through the shoot house and we are not going to break that promise. We only have two students left though.” As a TDSA Range member, Sonny has access to the range front gate. Sonny said he would lock up so I left.

I was later notified about the shooting and went back to the range. Gene had already been transported to hospital and the Dallas Sheriff’s Office was on the scene.

AND HERE IS WHAT SONNY SAID TO ME:

“I was standing out front of the shoot house talking with students. I was taking some money and shaking hands and saying bye to students. I had heard the last shooter’s number called out, #41. (It seems that 41 was the last student that day) So I knew the last shooter was going inside to shoot. I heard the shooting stop. I did not hear shooting for a while. I finished saying good-bye so I decided to make a run in the house before I left. I made the statement, “I am going to do a run” and then I heard a person standing behind me respond to me saying, “OK” I did not turn around so I don’t know who said OK to me. I, wrongfully, assumed it was clear to go. I pulled my pistol out and set up and started coming around the corner like this. (Sonny then demonstrated to me how he did that, which was pieing the corner) I shot three quick shots at the far left target, then three quick shots at the far right target and then three quick shots at the close right target just inside the room. I then heard someone say, “You shot me” so I cleared my pistol and ran over and ask him where are you shot, he said, “the stomach” so I ran back out of the house and yelled for the trauma bags and to dial 911 and to ask for a helicopter. I then went back in to attend to Gene.
Gene was standing near the first target I shot at and was hit with all three rounds. He was hit once in the right hand, once in the right bicep, and twice in the lower abdomen. The student was also in the same room and bent down to check on Gene. Sonny said, I never saw them in the room.”

Points to emphasize:

*Gene was shot with the first three rounds fired. SO, he had NO warning and could not have yelled out or done anything once rounds started being fired.

*Gene was NOT in the second room, but instead in the first room.

*Sonny was not doing a failure drill and was not aiming at a head shot of a paper target or of course a person.

*Sonny, did announce his intent to shoot in the shoot house, and believed he was being given clearance to enter.

*The actual live fire training during the class was done one student at a time with an instructor holding onto the student’s belt.

*Sonny did then and still does accept responsibility for his actions resulting in Gene’s injuries.

*Very qualified medics, including a former Special Forces 18D Medic (now currently a Doctor in Private Practice) and an Army Medic with recent combat experience were ON scene during the class and treated Gene within minutes of the incident.

Under the heading of potential bias in writing this:
I want everyone to know that read my account my opinion. So you will understand I am not “taking up” for Sonny.
I am not a student of Sonny’s and have never been. I fall into the category of AK’s and anything related to them are horrible and AR’s are the way to go. I have been privileged to train shooting fundamentals to American Special Forces and don’t understand why any American would want to train with Russian Special Forces. AND to drive home that, when Sonny introduced me to his class on Saturday he actually said, “This is Len Baxley, the range owner, and he HATES AKs!!”
BUT !! That being said, I personally saw people in this class that I knew with the following backgrounds: USPSA Master Class shooter, Former US Special Forces Medic (yep, the Doc!) and a recent former 82ndAirborne soldier.
SO, before you totally dismiss this Class or Type of Class or Sonny for that matter. There is a obvious segment of good Americans that think enough of it/him to pay good money to travel along way and take this/his training.

Now for my personal comments, if anyone is interested in reading. I make these comments for several reasons: I have spent the better part of the day contacting news reporting agencies correcting in-accurate reporting. Mainlydue to “quoting” other reports. It seems NO ONE wants to take responsibility, but instead just keeps repeating, “We just want to get the story correct sir, so tell us the real story?” Of course after they got it wrong!!
So,for the current TDSA Range Instructors that have been wrongfully blamed for causing this accident in local and national news agencies and for TDSA Range members that have called to see how our range could “cause” such an accident I made this statement.

Gentlemen/Ladies, I have worked over 18 years to build the TDSA Range. A range that allows shooters the ability to shoot the way they want, without the stringent rules imposed likemost other ranges. One shot every two seconds, no moving, no drawing and generally, NO FUN. Hopefully, TDSA range members realize we allow a lot of freedom on our range while trying to keep it as safe as possible, “GIVEN THE FREEDOM YOU ENJOY” The hard truth is freedom comes at a cost, to use a very true statement. For instance, the freedom to run and gun means someone might trip and fall and accidently discharge their firearm and hurt themselves or others. I think about this frequently as a range owner. I have to way everyone’s desire to utilize the “cool” things we have on our range with the possibility/probability of an accident occurring.
Just think about how many other ranges have a 40 ft. shooting tower, live fire street, live fire 200 yard city capable of 50 BMG. I think they are all very cool stuff but as proven even an experienced instructor made a small mistake that had grave consequences resulting in a life threatening injury.
To my Texas Defensive Shooting Academy Instructors, thank you for your discretion and professionalism in this matter. Your restraint shows character. I am proud to have you as instructors and friends. We have made a true difference in many lives: civilian, law enforcement and most recently military.

In closing, I wish Gene Smithson a quick and successful full recovery.
Furthermore, I hope the friendship Gene and Sonny have will not be torn apart but instead strengthened in this very difficult time. Remember, what makes a man is not what happens to him, but how he responds to what happens to him. So can be said for a friendship.

Len Baxley
Founder TDSA
www.tdsa.net

37 Responses to “Statement from the Range Owner Regarding the Recent Accidental Shooting”

  1. JohnS says:

    If this is the same Len Baxley who was a former officer and now a convicted felon, it doesnt suprise me at all.

  2. MrBinnacle says:

    Wishing Gene a thorough and speedy recovery. Prayers to him and Sonny during a very difficult time for both men.

    I am astonished that Mr. Baxley would promote the freedom’s he allows on his range while bad mouthing AK’s and studying Russian training techniques. Kind of hypocritical, no? Don’t look now, but our SF Community (and many others) are highly trained on AK’s and Russian (and other country’s) methods.

    Also, this is the last thing anyone in the firearms community needs to be spouting off to the media about, especially as our country’s leadership is exploring an assault weapons ban and taking away the same “freedoms” he claims to offer.

    • GAK_PDX says:

      By my reading, Mr Baxley’s goal in espousing his opinion of AKs was an attempt to distance himself from any perception of favoritism towards Mr Puzikas. It wasn’t really meant as a critique of the AK as a platform in any kind of serious sense.

      Sort of a ham fisted piece of literature, but I can understand why he did it.

  3. straps says:

    Training on a weapon system used my many of our adversaries and more than a few of our allies (that GP/conventional forces on the Reserve and Active side are increasingly tasked on to train) isn’t sketchy to me at all.

    Lots of other things about this caper are.

  4. TM says:

    Can’t help but think of the recent Panteao Productions trailer in which Sonny was shooting two AK’s at once, and subsequently called out by Larry Vickers for unsafe gun handling.

    Strike two.

    • John says:

      Well, he wasn’t shooting two AKs at once, it was a handgun and an AK. Second, the trailer shows two seconds of a longer segment explaining what he was doing. First he did a demonstration without firing a shot at full speed, then a slow demonstration on what it would look like with live ammo without spinning around in a circle.

      But, I guess you need to believe what you need to, despite what actually occurred.

      • Jack says:

        I believe that what actually occurred was Puzukas shot his assistant instructor in an act of wanton stupidity and negligence.

        People have been saying this guy was an accident waiting to happen for years. The nonsense he did in his videos was fair warning for those wise enough to recognize it.

        But you just keep on defending him, pal.

        • John says:

          Ok, pal, I guess I will. Not sure how frequently someone gets shot during a training class, but it happens. I got hit by shrapnel behind the ear from a richochet during a training class. People get hurt doing this stuff recreationally or professionally all the time. This isn’t the first occurance and it won’t be the last one.

          And to answer the question–yeah, I’d be upset if I was the one getting shot, but, ultimately, it is a mitigated risk I’m willling to take.

          • Andrew says:

            This is not an accident John. He placed his sights on another human being and shot three times. Your response may be that he was going fast and it was dark. Which is EXACTLY why he should be using a weaponlight and actually IDing the targets before shooting. Instead he was blazing through the house shooting blind and fast probably trying to look cool and show off to his students. This man should not only never teach ANYTHING ever again, but shouldn’t be allowed to touch firearms. This is absurd that you cannot see how big of a deal this is to our industry. This turd needs to be taken care of to show that this is not how the industry as a whole conducts itself.

          • Jack says:

            Getting shot by a fool during a training class is a risk you are willing to take. Well, that makes one of us. Keep talking. Keep sticking up for what this guy did. I need the laughs.

          • Jon C. says:

            You can’t really compare a ricochet or spalling to aimed fire into another person.

          • Musashi says:

            Dude. I just need to say, he fucked up. He showed a blatant disregard for the safety rules and weapons manipulation. Safety rule number 3 is know your target and it’s foreground and background. IDing the threat is imperative. That is why I don’t run a firearm without a weapon light on it. Sonny as well as Suarez are disgraces to the shooting community and and the AK community. They claim things like nothing is wrong with the AK (when knowing your weapons limitations and your own are what every warrior must do) or that you don’t need a weapon light unless you do work in buildings. You don’t decide when you have to use self defense or the light level, that is why every REAL professional has a weapon light.

  5. Kurt says:

    I was with this guy in his rendition of this event, and thought I could read how he felt until this line “A range that allows shooters the ability to shoot the way they want, without the stringent rules imposed likemost other ranges”…That explains his entire mentality, and why this happened.

    • MACK says:

      It’s not a case of his “mentality” but what all real world shooters want, Dynamic shooting over Static. Insurance limits what most ranges can offer and to have a Dynamic shooting enviroment means putting yourself out there in so many ways besides the financial aspect. So he is talking about his willingness to put himself in this situation in order to provide the type of shooting 99% of us want.

  6. Joe says:

    So much for target discrimination and SA

  7. Sofic says:

    How is he in conus training and running shooting classes? Is he a resident alien?

    Listening to the commentary in videos is the give away. Over complicating everything.

  8. au says:

    I pray for a speedy recovery for Gene.

  9. Mohican says:

    If anybody does in the real life the same he did in this case maybe one of your beloved ones could be hurt. I mean, if you shoot to a noise you heard in the kitchen in the middle of the night you may be shooting a thirsty loved one who get up to drink a glass of water in the kitchen. Would I hate my loved ones I attend a course with Sonny to learn how to deal with them.

  10. MuzzleFront says:

    The more you drive a car, the more likely you are to get into a car wreck. When we drive on the road, we take certain steps to ensure as safe a ride as possible. We check our mirrors, we use our signals, we tap our brakes, we steer to avoid obstacles. Yet, eventually, due to something outside of our control or our own momentary vaporous cranial emissions something unforeseen happens.
    This isn’t because we’ve never seen an accident, or read about one, or seen one on the news. But because sometimes, shit…just…happens.
    In our world, we live and die by ability to translate those same precautions. Sometimes, just like in a car, we get blind sided. We don’t honk our horn enough or call for the right kind of clearance to move from our partner.
    And once in a while, shit…just…happens.
    Amateurs do it until they get it right. Professionals do it until they get it wrong. But it never ends there. We look at what went wrong, and take it apart, dissect it and learn from it. Sometimes, something has to go very wrong, and sometime someone has to get seriously hurt. The correction will be made, on the instructor’s part, on the processes’ part, or on the student’s part. (NOT saying this is in ANY WAY the student’s fault) Because those are the areas in which change comes.
    Was this a range fuck up? Nope.
    Was this a student fuck up? Nope.
    Was this a malicious fuck up? Nope.
    But shit just happens.

    • Kango says:

      His actions was negligence. Not “shit just happens” or “outside of his control”. You got it wrong 100% full stop.

      • muzzlefront says:

        Negligence yes.
        I’m not exonerating Sonny in his actions. However, if you’ve ever texted, changed the channel on your car radio, gotten something out of the glovebox, or touched your monkey while driving, then you’ve made the same mistake.

        Learn from this and move on. Internet assassins aren’t going to fix anything.

  11. DarkHorse says:

    It’s not ONE small thing that leads to a catastrophic event. It’s a series or chain of events that lead to catastrophic events and at every step along the way, the individual makes internal decisions.

    The first internal decision in the catastrophic chain of events was that it was getting dark and Sonny elected to make “one last run”.

    Rather than CONFIRM the house was clear, Sonny made another internal decision to go in hot. Number 2.

    By his own admission, Sonny does not recall WHO said the house was all clear and therefore, he ASSumed it to be clear. Number 3.

    Finally, when he looked down the barrel of the weapon he was carrying and flipped the selector switch to engage, then put his finger on the trigger, he made his last and final decision. Engage.

    If at any point in the chain of events Sonny had made a different decision, the accidental shooting would NOT have happened. When you are a paid professional taking the lives and safety of your students into your own hands, your decision making process CAN NOT be flawed.

    Unfortunately, there is a great lesson here. Take the hard lesson learned and apply it to your own decision making process so that this type of event doesn’t happen again.

  12. Rob Clark says:

    I just dont understand how he could aim a weapon at a target… in this case “Gene” and pull the trigger. I understand accidents with ricochets, shooting through walls and such… but this is pure aiming at another person and pulling the trigger. Zero target discrimination. I just dont understand why he didnt look down his sites and say to himself… wait… that is not the paper target I am looking for… that is my friend; therefore, do not fire!
    I just dont get it.

  13. Mongo says:

    I’m going to have to call all stop on this for a moment.
    Shit did not just “happen” with this incident, I will explain using information from Mr Baxley’s own account.
    1- The shooter “believed” did not verify. If you are the professional “i.e. the man taking money for his services” the phrase “I believe” can not be part of your vocabulary, you either know or you don’t.

    2- The instructor did not follow his own plan. Per Mr Baxley’s statement shooters were to be supervised going through the shoot house. Guess what, the one who wasn’t is the one who we are discussing. Student or not, no one is above the rules during live fire. Plan you dive, dive your plan.

    3- As the owner / range supervisor, you own the successes and failures. I do not know the schedule or circumstances that led to Mr Baxley leaving his range, I’ve only read his statement, however the original plan had been modified, had the safety plan? Did the impromptu shoot house and impending darkness require additional safety? I wasn’t there, so I will not conjecture an assumption.

    My overall evaluation based on Mr Baxley’s own statement is complete institutional breakdown of safety standards coupled with complacency. That is at a bare minimum. I’m sure you can go further within your own opinion.

    • muzzlefront says:

      Extremely valid points.
      “My overall evaluation based on Mr Baxley’s own statement is complete institutional breakdown of safety standards coupled with complacency.” Is precisely what happened.

    • John says:

      “Hopefully, TDSA range members realize we allow a lot of freedom on our range while trying to keep it as safe as possible….”

      My $0.02, for what it’s worth: To me, that ‘hopeful’ is very telling. He never said, “Safety procedures were violated” or bothered trying to define what ‘safe’ means in the inherently hazardous environment he’s in charge of. Just that he was ‘hopeful’ people realize things should be ‘safe.’ I guess this goes back to the qualified instructor thread going earlier.

  14. muzzlefront says:

    We stress target identification.
    If you can’t I.D. a target you shouldn’t be shooting at it. Period, end of story.

    • Rob Clark says:

      There were institutional breakdowns as “Mango” said… but target ID is the ultimate fail safe.

  15. Jeff W. says:

    A clear violation of safety rule #4 – Be aware of your target and what lies around it.

    It appears to me from what Mr. Baxley wrote that Sonny was showing off, if not to the students remaining on the range then to himself. He knew where the targets were and so he was trying to go fast. He was willing to and did violate #4 in order to go fast.

  16. 2-BPM says:

    The only good things to come out of Russia are tall blondes, AK-47s and vodka. “in soviet Russia, instructor shoots YOU!”

  17. USP says:

    The American thought communist weapons couldn’t harm him. This is what happened.

  18. Shrek says:

    It is NOT a small mistake to shoot anyone! This is the kind of things that will shut down shooting classes in general. A mistake like this makes the entire gun community look bad.

    SHREK

  19. Austin says:

    Prayers for Gene and a speedy recovery.

    Anyone who wants to make a donation can read the details at Gene’s site.

    http://genesmithson.com/

  20. Rubicon says:

    Clearly the room was dark and Gene’s silhouette looked like a target. Sonny assumed the range was clear when he heard someone say “OK”.

    I grew up skiing and we had a joke that went you break your leg on the last run. Everyone was ready to go, the situation became too relaxed and an unfortunate accident happened.

    The real accident was assuming the person that said “OK” knew what the situation was. Again this goes back to the old safety rule of knowing what you are shooting at and what’s beyond it. A walk through the range with a light to make sure it was really clear could have avoided tragedy.

    It’s easy to assume but on a gun range you want to know.