News Local

'Heavy hearts' but business as usual: Ellwood Epps

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

Wes Winkel, owner of Ellwood Epps on Highway 11 north of Orillia, recalls on Thursday how on Wednesday a gun discharged in the sporting goods store's gun room on Wednesday, injuring two men.

Wes Winkel, owner of Ellwood Epps on Highway 11 north of Orillia, recalls on Thursday how on Wednesday a gun discharged in the sporting goods store's gun room on Wednesday, injuring two men.

It was with heavy hearts that Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods opened its doors Thursday morning.

A 26-year-old man is in critical condition and a 66-year-old employee was injured after a rifle went off in the Highway 11 store's gun room on Wednesday morning.

"Today, we're back to business as usual with heavy hearts," business owner Wes Winkel said on Thursday. "We're hoping the young man pulls through."

Around 10 a.m. Wednesday, the 26-year-old entered the Severn Township hunting supply store with a 53-year-old, who was carrying a disassembled Mauser rifle in a case.

The pair, from Parry Sound, walked to the gun room, located in the store's basement, and set the case on the counter, Winkel said.

"It happened extremely fast. He put it on the counter and off it went."

All guns, even those in pieces, must always be clear of ammo during travel, Winkel said.

"He made the assumption that it was safe in parts and it was not."

Winkel was on the phone in the gun room when the weapon, still in its case, went off.

The 26-year-old was shot in the stomach and the upper arm of a male employee was grazed.

"Everyone was stunned and slightly panicked at first," Winkel said.

Luckily, Ellwood Epps sales clerk, William Nelson was on hand.

A Gravenhurst volunteer firefighter, Nelson began treating the gunshot victim right away.

"Bill applied a significant amount of pressure to the wound, which was a very large wound," Winkel said. "I believe the gentleman is alive because (Nelson) treated him right away. It was fantastic."

The 26-year-old man was transported by air ambulance to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto with serious, life-threatening injuries.

On Thursday, Orillia OPP Special Const. Wanda Peirce gave an update on his condition.

"The gentleman is in stable but critical condition as of this morning," she said.

The Ellwood Epps sales clerk was transported to Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital and received six stitches where the bullet grazed his upper arm, Winkel said.

The sales clerk has worked for Ellwood Epps for six years.

He was filling out paperwork on the counter when the bullet grazed his arm.

"If he had been a foot to the left, we could have lost him," Winkel said.

The employee did not wish to appear in the media.

"He pulled us all aside this morning and told us to please keep him out of it," Winkel said.

About 10,000 guns pass through the doors of Ellwood Epps each year as the business does gun repairs, trades and estimates.

In the 15 years since Winkel and his father purchased the business, a gun has never gone off in the facility.

"Our first one unfortunately struck somebody," Winkel said. "We will do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again."

When hunters go through firearms licence training, the No. 1 rule is to make sure every firearm is treated as if it were loaded. The second most important rule is to always transport, or move every firearm unloaded.

"This client unfortunately violated that," Winkel said. "He made an assumption that something disassembled was not (capable) of doing that. It's just as dangerous unfortunately."

Winkel says "99.9% of clients" bring their guns into the shop unloaded.

"It's the first one I remember in a long long time (being loaded.)"

Gunsmiths in the shop ensure each gun is clear before handling it, but in this case no one had the opportunity to speak to the 53-year-old before the shot was fired.

"We want to emphasize that safety is the No. 1 priority of everything we do," Winkel said. "We had no interaction with this individual. I can't think of a preventative measure that could have stopped it."

Store staff did not recognize the two men as previous customers.

"We don't know him at all. We don't even know his name," Winkel said.

Ellwood Epps was closed the entire day on Wednesday following the incident.

Because the investigation wrapped up late, store staff ended up cleaning up after the shooting.

"We had a significant cleanup last evening," Winkel said. "We tried to find some assistance for some disaster cleanup crews, but unfortunately by the time the police and the investigation was over, they were all closed."

A chat with firefighters encouraged Winkel to open shop the next day.

"They said to sit and think about it is less helpful. To get back into normal routine is the best way to cope with that."

Clients and suppliers greeted staff with well wishes on Thursday.

"Everyone's very supportive. No one is scared to come in," Winkel said.

The investigation is ongoing and no charges have been laid at this point, Peirce said.

"There is all kinds of laws as far as the way to transport firearms, store firearms and all that, so that's all being looked at, at this point."

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