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Car thief's shooting sparks gun rights debate

By Colleen O'Brien, Reporter / Weekend Anchor, colleeno@kxly.com
Published On: Mar 28 2013 05:12:56 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 28 2013 08:23:52 PM CDT
Brendon Kaluza-Graham memorial
SPOKANE, Wash. -

The gun rights debate is at a boiling point over this week's shooting death of a car thief in North Spokane. The memorial set up for Brendon Kaluza-Graham is now being taken over with messages from those who think the car thief deserved to get shot.

Kaluza-Graham, 25, was shot and killed as he drove away in a stolen SUV Monday in East Spokane. The car's owner, 56-year-old Gail Gerlach, told investigators he fired because he thought Kaluza-Graham pointed a weapon at him.

The messages written by some self-proclaimed gun owners have been scribbled out by Kaluza-Graham's friends. It's an example of how this case has polarized a neighborhood and community over gun rights and property crime.

For three years, Mike Lear has lived in the same East Spoakne neighborhood where Monday's incident happened. He's also put up with countless instances of property crime.

"I don't agree with the extremes people are going but they don't really have a lot of choice if nobody is going to do anything about it," Lear said.

Though Lear doesn't agree with the lethal force used Monday against Kaluza-Graham by his neighbor, he understands the frustration Gerlach might have felt.

"He's probably been provoked a lot more times and I don't know what the cops are going to do, you know, they haven't done anything for a lot of people around here," Lear said.

It's that level of frustration causing an uproar over this case. Did Gerlach commit a crime by firing at a car thief, who was driving away? Or was the lethal force justified as his property was being stolen? Those polarizing opinions have spilled over onto the memorial set up for Kaluza-Graham.

"THUG" wrote one person with arrows pointing to Kaluza-Graham's picture.

"Don't blame the gun owner(s) we (him) have a right to protect what is ours. Tax payers work hard for what we have and THUGS come and think they are intitled [sic] to what we worked for. It's sad someone chose to lose their life like this (but get a job and work like the rest of us.)" another message read.

"Don't steal, you won't get shot" was a running theme in a few of the messages written on Kaluza-Graham's memorial poster.

All of the messages against Kaluza-Graham have been scribbled out by his friends.

"Off drugs, he's a great, love, great friend, just he was a great guy besides his addiction, you know, he was a very good guy," Misty Santos said.

Santos grew up with Kaluza-Graham and thinks his family and friends have a right to grieve outside of the controversy.

"I think they don't know him worth a [expletive] besides his stupid action he made and I think they need to keep their comments to themselves if they don't know him as a person," Santos said.

The Spokane Police Department Thursday said that there will be no new information released on the case. They are finishing up their investigation, including a search of Gerlach's home and car. Ultimately, prosecutors will decide if Gerlach will face charges for shooting and killing the man who stole his car.

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