We live in a violent society. Even the most peaceful activities can turn deadly in the blink of an eye.
Last week Paul Dart Jr. was shot in the head on a float trip on the Meramec River in front of his wife.
The 48-year-old Robertsville man was with family and friends when they stopped on a gravel bar so one of the members of the group could urinate.
According to police reports, a property owner along the river, James Crocker of Steelville, confronted the group telling them that they were on private property and had to leave.
Words were exchanged which escalated to a heated argument. Crocker pulled out a gun and some of the floaters picked up rocks. Crocker told police he fired warning shots as four men moved closer to him in the gravel bar, with one of them — not Dart — holding a pair of rocks.
Crocker told police later that “I just shot the one closest to me.”
Dart, an Army veteran, died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Crocker was charged with second-degree murder.
What makes people react in such a violent manner? Police say drugs and alcohol are often factors in these type of incidents.
Members of Dart’s group had been drinking on the float trip according to reports. Anyone who floats the Meramec River knows that’s not unusual. Float trips on the Meramec can be raucous affairs on summer weekends.
It’s unclear whether Crocker was impaired in any way but his neighbors said that he was irritated that people stopped on the gravel bar adjacent to his property to party. He had made improvements to the road leading to river and posted a “Keep Out” sign on the gravel bar, facing the river.
Maybe his frustration boiled over to the point he snapped. He was heard to say, “I have the power here. I have the power,” shortly after the shooting.
While the Missouri law is complicated as to whether he actually owned the gravel bar where the shooting took place, he clearly believed it to be his property. The floaters challenged him on that arguing it was “public property” and that they had a right to use it.
Regardless of who owned the property this was a senseless killing. And, to be fair, an anomaly.
While those who float Missouri streams regularly have likely encountered property owners along the river who are aggressive regarding trespassers and rowdy floaters, they don’t usually resort to violence.
But we live in a society where guns are prevalent and people are increasingly unpredictable and unstable. Random altercations with strangers who turn violent are becoming more commonplace. Cut someone off on the road and you could end up in the hospital or worse, the morgue. It happens way too frequently.
We’ve heard arguments that Crocker had every right to defend his property under Missouri law and that the floaters should have their own weapons to defend themselves from violent property owners.
Either suggestion strikes us as sad. We’ve always found Missouri streams a great place to get away from it all and enjoy some peace and tranquility.