Court Orders Maidstone Gun Club Closed After Neighbors Sue; Members Blame Illegal Shooting on Activity Outside Club - 27 East

Court Orders Maidstone Gun Club Closed After Neighbors Sue; Members Blame Illegal Shooting on Activity Outside Club

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A State Supreme Court justice has ordered the Maidstone Gun Club closed. KYRIL BROMLEY

A State Supreme Court justice has ordered the Maidstone Gun Club closed. KYRIL BROMLEY

The Maidstone Gun Club. KYRIL BROMLEY

The Maidstone Gun Club. KYRIL BROMLEY

The shooting range at the Maidstone Gun Club from the target's view. At the end of the concrete shooting tunnels there is a wood shield intended to prevent errant or ricocheted bullets from exiting the range.

The shooting range at the Maidstone Gun Club from the target's view. At the end of the concrete shooting tunnels there is a wood shield intended to prevent errant or ricocheted bullets from exiting the range.

The concrete shooting tunnels intended to keep the trajectory of any shots fired on the rifle range in the target area.

The concrete shooting tunnels intended to keep the trajectory of any shots fired on the rifle range in the target area.

The shooting end of the Maidstone Gun Club rifle range. Members say that if the range is used properly there should be no way for bullets to escape the target area, as homeowners whose houses have been hit by bullets say they do. Gun club members say the bullets more likely came from illegal shooting from the power line right-of-way nearby.

The shooting end of the Maidstone Gun Club rifle range. Members say that if the range is used properly there should be no way for bullets to escape the target area, as homeowners whose houses have been hit by bullets say they do. Gun club members say the bullets more likely came from illegal shooting from the power line right-of-way nearby.

authorMichael Wright on Dec 2, 2022

A State Supreme Court justice last week ordered the Maidstone Gun Club in Wainscott closed immediately, after a group of Merchants Path neighbors who say their homes have been hit by stray bullets from the club’s rifle range over the last 18 years filed a lawsuit seeking to permanently close down the gun club.

The lawsuit was filed last Tuesday, November 29, accompanied by a request that an urgent hearing on a temporary restraining order be held the next day, November 30, because, the neighbors’ attorney argued, “the plaintiffs are at risk of being struck by errant bullets the gun club allows to escape from the property.”

Following the Wednesday hearing, at which no representative of the gun club appeared to oppose the motion, Justice Christopher Modelewski issued the requested TRO barring the gun club from using “any and all of its facilities” until the lawsuit is adjudicated.

Maidstone Gun Club President Walter Johnson has not responded to requests for comment.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of five Merchants Path homeowners, details at least eight instances dating back to 2004 of stray bullets either hitting homes or being found on properties down range of the club’s rifle range. That includes an incident in August caught on a security camera that captures the high-pitched zing of at least one and possibly two bullets coming out of the woods and striking a home at 137 Merchants Path, as workers who were at the property duck for cover.

The suit says the most recent incident of a bullet striking a home took place this month but gives no further details.

Merchants Path is about one mile north of the Maidstone Gun Club, approximately in line with the direction of the club’s rifle range.

The plaintiffs in the case — Roxana and Cristinel Pintilie, Ellen Corwin, Lori Wienstein, Vincent Covello, Tracy Carey, and Kevin Coyle — accuse both the gun club and East Hampton Town, which owns the property and leases it to the gun club, of negligence and failing to ensure that the gun club operates in a safe and responsible manner. The suit demands that the club be closed permanently and that the plaintiffs be awarded unspecified damages.

“For at least the last 18 years, the gun club has permitted the premises to be used in a manner that has allowed bullets to escape its premises and strike surrounding homes located on Merchants Path,” the complaint filed in State Supreme Court this week reads. “Homes in the vicinity of the gun club are constantly at risk of and are actually being struck by errant bullets.”

The gun club closed the rifle range over the summer in response to the August incident.

But club members say that they do not believe the bullets could have come from the rifle range, because concrete shooting tunnels prevent a gun on the range from being aimed errantly over the earthen embankment at the end of the 200-yard range.

“I can’t see how it’s possible,” said Frank Dalene, a longtime member of the club who uses the range to shoot his collection of rifles, from long range target rifles to a replica Revolutionary War-era musket. “I know anything can happen, but you’re shooting through these long concrete tunnels, and at the end of the tunnels there are timber barriers that prevent stray bullets — a ricochet — from leaving the range. You would have to be purposefully trying to shoot out of the range, and even then I don’t know how you could do it.”

Dalene, as the club has suggested to those investigating incidents of bullets striking homes have in the past, said that he suspects the real source of the bullets is people shooting illegally — it is illegal to discharge a rifle anywhere on Long Island other than at enclosed shooting ranges — along the electrical power line right-of-way clearings.

“If you walk the power lines, you’ll see an incredible amount of evidence of people shooting stuff up,” Dalene said. “We’ve been at the gun club and heard shots at the power lines. Even on the airport road, signs have had to be replaced because of bullet holes in them.”

The lawsuit says that no shell casings were found in the woods around the club following the August 5 incident, which was at the home of plaintiffs Roxana and Cristinel Pintilie.

It also claims the club has no employees supervising the shooting on the property — or cleaning up spent shell casings, which pose an additional threat of lead pollution in an important aquifer recharge area — and often leaves the gates open allowing unfettered and undocumented access to the property.

Dalene said that the fenced-in rifle range area itself is locked with a unique combination lock that can only be opened by members who have been given safety training instruction in the use of the shooting lanes. He suggested that he has recommended to the club that the entire rifle range be covered with a roof, effectively making it an indoor facility.

The club applied to the town earlier this year to renew its 30-year lease for the 79 acres of land, which expires next fall. The parcel is part of the 600-acre East Hampton Airport property.

The club first leased land at the airport in 1982, then amended the lease in 1993, reducing the acreage but resetting the 30-year time frame. It pays just $100 per year to lease the property.

The lawsuit notes that local police officers use the club for shooting practice regularly and implies that investigations of the incidents of bullets hitting Merchant Path homes have not been diligently pursued by East Hampton Town Police.

Earlier this year, the owners of the home hit by the bullets on August 5 engaged the New York State Police, who they say have launched an investigation into the incident.

State Police have not responded to requests from The Press to confirm their investigation or the details of the homeowners’ account of the shooting.

None of the homeowners named in the suit contacted by The Press was willing to talk on the record about the lawsuit or the incidents.

But some of homeowners named in the suit told members of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee in October that State Police compared time stamps on the video from Pentilie’s house and security video at the gun club itself and determined that the shots that narrowly missed the workers came from an AK-47 that had been illegally modified and was not registered with the state, fired by a Westhampton man at the club.

“A bullet can travel 2½ miles,” Roxana Pintilie told the CAC members in October. “We are not even a mile away.”

“It’s a miracle that so far no one has been injured or killed by errant bullets,” Ellen Corwin, another of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, added at the time. “I’m absolutely terrified for my granddaughter. We were thinking of putting up a playlet for her in the backyard — we scratched that idea.”

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