13 INVESTIGATES: Road rage - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

13 INVESTIGATES: Road rage

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FULTONDALE, AL -  Every day, thousands of area motorists cope with commuting congestion.

While some drivers may earn the encouraging horn or the friendly hand gesture, most arrive home without incident.

Then there is the rare encounter which escalates into a confrontation caught on tape recently in Fultondale.

The video shows an SUV driver brandishing a pistol pointing it at a motorcyclist who is recording the entire encounter with his cell phone camera.

“The skinny little boy is a &#%@! bad&#% with his .45 loaded, ready to blow your &#%@?! head off!” shouted the SUV driver.

No one was hurt, but the motorcyclist who shot the video filed a police report.

Investigator David Rogers with the Fultondale Police Department probed what led to the heated exchange.

Investigator Rogers claims the motorcyclist was riding north on Highway 31, when the SUV in front of him slammed on his breaks.

Rogers said the motorcyclist then pulled alongside the SUV where a brief exchange of profanities prompted the SUV driver decide to flee.  

“The driver pulled off away from the person on the motorcycle and started going up the turn lane there on 31.  And that's when the person the motorcycle followed him,” Investigator Rogers said.

With the motorcyclist in pursuit, the driver turned off of Highway 31 onto Stouts Road and stopped near the Fultondale Police Department.

When the motorcyclist hopped off his bike and approached the SUV, its driver pulled out a pistol.

The motorcyclist exclaimed, “I would knock you the &#%@! out if you weren't such a %&#!@, if you weren't such a %&!@#.”

The driver replied, “Do it, I will blow your &#%!@?! head off!”

The man on the motorcycle was Charles Letson.

In addition to filing a police report, he posted the entire two minute video on You Tube.

When we tracked him down at this home, he maintained his life was not only threatened with the gun but when the other driver fled the scene.    

“He could have easily killed me.  If I had not been so quick to jump out of the way, he could have run me over,” Letson suggested.

Letson argued he pursued the SUV in self defense.

“I have to defend myself and the whole bike scene because we don't get that respect.  You can't just run bikes over like that,” Letson said.

When we asked him would it have been better to just let the SUV drive away, he responded, “Why didn't I let him go, because he threatened my life.”

That's interesting, because the other driver said he felt the same.

Using court records and social media, we found the armed driver of the silver SUV at his home.

He requested that we conceal his identity but agreed to give us his side of the story.

He claimed when the two were shouting at each other in traffic Letson threatened his life.

“I have no reason to run anybody off the road.  I was trying to run from him.  He said he was going to &#%!@?! kill me,” the driver said.

So why did he pull a gun?

When the two arrived at the Fultondale Police Department, he thought he saw Letson pulling something out of his pocket.

“I am freaking out.  What should I do?  I don't want to be a statistic so I reach into my bag and I draw my gun.  I am thinking this guy has a gun and he's going to shoot,” the driver claimed.

It turns out Letson's weapon was only his cell phone but the driver continued waiving his pistol until he pulled off.

While this road rage example ended without injury, unfortunately that is not always the case.

In November 1999, Shirley Henson shot Gina Foster during a similar argument on this Interstate 65 ramp in Alabaster.

Foster died.

Henson claimed she was defending herself against Foster when Foster approached Henson's SUV, but a jury convicted Henson of manslaughter and she served four years in prison.

So what are your gun rights in a road rage argument?

When Shirley Henson pulled the trigger on that exit ramp 15 years ago, Alabama's self defense laws were much different.

Back then you had to retreat from an aggressor before using deadly force.

Seven years later, that all changed.

In 2006, the Alabama Legislature changed the self-defense law.

Code Section 13A-3-23 already allowed someone to use deadly force if the aggressor, "Is attempting to remove...a person against his or her will from any occupied vehicle."

However, now reads the defender, "has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground."

In other word, if you feel your life is in danger and somebody is trying to pull you out of your vehicle, the law does not require you to flee in order to justify the use of deadly force.

We showed the recent road rage video to Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale.

Sheriff Hale said while the SUV driver has the right to pull out his pistol if he legitimately feels his life is in danger, Sheriff Hale concluded, “Once the threat is over, the gesturing with the pistol is wrong.  But it is just as wrong as the guy on the motorcycle popping wheelies following him and seeking him and the confrontation.”

Ultimately, both men admitted poor decision-making, but defended their motives.

“I am in the wrong for chasing the guy down.  But what about me defending myself?  Do I have no rights in defending myself?” Letson asked.

“I definitely felt my life was in danger.  I wouldn't have drawn otherwise.  That's something idiotic to do is to draw a gun for no reason,” the SUV driver concluded.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has since revoked the SUV driver's conceal-carry permit.

The driver tells us he's already sold the handgun seen in the You Tube clip cost him his job.

The Fultondale Police Department told us the behavior captured on camera could qualify as misdemeanor menacing or harassment, but since neither man is pressing charges no one will likely face any criminal responsibility.
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