WINCHESTER — Three children and a deputy narrowly missed being wounded when police said a driver accidentally fired a pistol during a traffic stop Monday.
The shooting occurred at 10:06 a.m. after a traffic stop over an undisplayed vehicle registration, according to a news release from Lt. Warren W. Gosnell, Frederick County Sheriff's Office spokesman. The Volkswagen car was parked on Front Drive off Front Royal Pike (U.S. 522) when Deputy Austin Cliento approached it and heard the shot. The bullet exited the bottom of the Volkswagen past Cliento and the three children aged 2 through 7 who were in the backseat of the car.
Gosnell wrote that Cliento drew his semi-automatic pistol and ordered the driver to drop the pistol on the floorboard and he complied. The driver was identified as Daniel Zachary Cook of Purcellville.
Gosnell wrote that Cook told police he moved the gun from the car's center console because he'd "seen what cops do to white and black people with guns." Regarding firing the pistol, "Cook stated he was attempting to hide it when it went off," according to Gosnell.
Gosnell said the gun was confiscated and will be tested to see if it was used in any crimes.
Passenger Douglas Burke, the father of the children, told police he asked Cook what he was doing when he began to move the gun. "When Cook made the statement about what cops do, Burke demanded that Cook put the gun away," Gosnell wrote. "It remains unclear why Cook would remove the weapon from the locked console in the first place if his intent were simply to hide it."
Sheriff Lenny Millholland said in the news release that he believes Cook was trying to harm Cliento.
"Can you imagine if one of those small children would've been hit by this stray bullet?" he said. "It is sad the way the men and women of law enforcement are being perceived and treated these days."
Gosnell said in an email that the pistol was a Taurus 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. The Taurus G2C and G2S 9 mm pistols have external safeties and require between five and nine pounds of pressure on the trigger to fire, according to the Taurus website.
In Virginia, people are not required to have a concealed carry pistol permit to carry handguns in vehicles. Gosnell said drivers are advised to store guns in locked compartments in cars to avoid thefts. In a traffic stop, however, people without permits should keep the gun in plain view and advise police that they have a weapon in the car, he said.
Cook was arrested and charged with reckless discharge of a firearm, brandishing a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon. The 24-year-old Cook's criminal record includes numerous convictions for traffic violations as well as for public intoxication.