New law may have helped firefighter elude charges in deadly shooting

James David Lambert, 41, was shot as police say it appeared he was stealing a trailer. (Photo source: Charlotte Mecklenburg Sheriff's Office)
James David Lambert, 41, was shot as police say it appeared he was stealing a trailer. (Photo source: Charlotte Mecklenburg Sheriff's Office)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A suspected thief was shot to death by an off-duty firefighter in northwest Charlotte after it appeared he was stealing a trailer from the fireman's home, WBTV has learned.

Police said they determined that no charges will be filed in the case because the suspect was accelerating a vehicle in the direction of the fireman, who then fired his gun.

The incident began when officers were called a home along Travis Floyd Lane just before midnight Monday to the report of a possible larceny. Officers were told that a late model Ford Ranger had just hooked up to a white trailer at a home and someone was trying to steal it.

According to CMPD, the trailer was being stolen from Israel Jeremiah Harthorne.

In recent weeks, North Carolina enacted the Castle Doctrine, which may have helped in this case.

The new law offers protection from prosecution for property owners who use deadly force, when their lives are in danger.

Gun store owner Larry Hyatt believes it helps the average person.

"For the first time I remember, it's giving the good citizen an edge over the criminal," he said.

In recent weeks D.A. Andrew Murray went on record to support the new bill, and it's a decision that plays well at places like Hyatt's where guns are sold.

Jeffery Paddyfoote is a local gun owner who wants the law to be on his side.

" I have a wife and kids and if someone comes into my home, "he said.  I want to be able to protect them and I don't want to have a lawsuit or charge against me for defending my family."

The gun store owner here agrees.

"Today, if you do have protect your family or your life. You have a better chance of not being prosecuted than you did just a month ago," Hyatt said.

Investigators say the off duty firefighter saw the suspected crime happening and jumped into his truck and began to chase the two men with the trailer.

Police say he followed the man at least a couple blocks before the man pulled out a gun and started shooting at the men.

"During the course of the investigation CMPD detectives determined that the property owner positioned himself between his car and the truck (the suspect) was operating in an attempt to detain (the suspect) until police arrived," police said Tuesday afternoon.

"Evidence gathered indicated that (the suspect) accelerated his vehicle in the direction of the property owner presenting a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm to the property owner."

The shooting happened at the intersection of Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road and Lawing School Road.

One of the men inside the truck, later identified as 41-year-old James David Lambert, was shot in the head and later died at Carolinas Medical Center.

The Charlotte's Fire Department confirms that an off-duty firefighter was involved in the shooting.

"Early this morning the Charlotte Fire Department was notified a shooting incident involving an off-duty firefighter that left one man dead," Captain Rob Brisley released in a statement on Tuesday. "The firefighter voluntarily went to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Headquarters for questioning and has since been released."

"Our prayers and thoughts remain with the people affected by this incident," Fire Chief Jon Hannan said.

The second suspected thief and the neighbor stayed at the intersection until officers arrived.  They were taken to police headquarters, where they were questioned by detectives.

WBTV News learned late Wednesday afternoon that charges may come against the second suspect before the week is over.

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