LAKE STEVENS — Prosecutors on Friday filed a criminal charge against a Lake Stevens father whose 3-year-old son shot himself in the mouth in November.
The boy climbed up on a bedroom dresser, pulled his dad’s loaded .380-caliber pistol from the holster and pulled the trigger, according to court papers filed in Everett District Court. The bullet lodged in the boy’s upper palate and caused significant damage that required surgery.
Jon Holzwarth, 47, was charged Friday with reckless endangerment, a gross misdemeanor. By leaving a gun within reach of his son, prosecutors allege that Holzwarth engaged in reckless conduct that created a substantial risk to the boy.
Prosecutors say a recent state Supreme Court decision limited what charges were available to them.
The court last year dismissed a third-degree assault charge against a Bremerton man whose loaded gun was picked up by his girlfriend’s young son. The boy brought the gun to school and it went off while in his backpack, injuring one of his classmates.
In that case, the court concluded that the man leaving a loaded gun out was not the direct cause of the assault on the classmate.
That meant prosecutors were left with reckless endangerment, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Kathy Jo Blake said.
Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives turned up evidence that Holzwarth was warned more than once that his son was able to reach his gun on the dresser.
He allegedly told detectives that his wife encouraged him to keep the gun somewhere else or lock it up. The boy had seen him put the gun on the dresser. The boy had climbed up the dresser several times, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Matthew Baldock wrote in charging papers.
Holzwarth’s mother in-law told investigators that a couple of days before the shooting she dropped off several trigger locks and encouraged him to secure his guns. Holzwarth allegedly told the woman that he was not going to lock up his Ruger .380 because he needed it for protection, court papers said. Detectives found the locks still in packaging when they searched the scene after the shooting.
Detectives also learned that in 2013 Holzwarth and his wife separated. In court papers she wrote that she was concerned about her son’s safety because Holzwarth left his guns out.
“Jon says it is better to be judged by twelve than to be carried by six,” the woman wrote in the protection order.
Holzwarth reportedly told police that his son and a 4-year-old were playing alone in the master bedroom. He heard a loud noise and went to investigate. He discovered that the children had locked themselves in the master bathroom. He kicked open the door and saw his son bleeding from the mouth. The boy told his parents that his friend shot him. He later told his mom that he had climbed the dresser, picked up the gun and shot himself.
Detectives found the gun buried under a pile of clothes in the bedroom.
Holzwarth doesn’t have any prior criminal history. Prosecutors are not expected to ask for any bail when he is arraigned next month. They do plan to ask that Holzwarth not have any contact with his son.