Less than a year after a Washington & Jefferson College football player was killed near campus, seven students, including four of his former teammates, were confronted in the same area early Friday by an armed man who police say fired two shots.
While Washington police said Eric LeMont Williams Jr., 24, of 108 Hall Ave., Washington, fired the shots from his truck, Williams said he was acting in self-defense because he feared becoming “the next Trayvon Martin.”
Williams was charged with seven counts each of reckless endangerment, terroristic threats and harassment and one count of disorderly conduct after Washington police said he fired his handgun in the air about 1:30 a.m. while sitting in his pickup at South Main and West Maiden streets, just a block from where Tim McNerney was assaulted and died of a head injury.
Police said the four football players and three female students were walking back to campus from a bar when Williams pulled up from behind them, stopped and said, “W&J is back in session. You better get back soon.”
Williams then fired two shots into the air and drove away, police said.
Two students went to the college’s Protection Services security office, which contacted Washington police. City officers said they found the truck later in the morning and recovered a .40-caliber handgun in the vehicle’s center console.
Police said two of the students identified Williams and another man who was in the truck. The passenger, William Mann, 25, of Washington, gave police a statement and was released without being charged.
Williams denied the allegations and claimed he was the victim. He said the group surrounded him, started making threats and used a homosexual slur. He said he fired his weapon when he became concerned about his own safety.
“I let off two warning shots, letting them guys know to back up and get away from me because I don’t want to be the next Trayvon Martin, having to worry about being black and jumped on and not being able to defend myself,” Williams told the Observer-Reporter.
W&J spokeswoman Karen Oosterhous said investigators have told school officials that the students were returning to campus when they were “verbally harassed” by the two people in the truck.
“At no time did the groups engage, and everyone was safe and sound,” Oosterhous said. “We appreciate the speed and nature of the police response, and we thank them for their obvious concern for student safety. We also appreciate the wisdom of our students, who took the right measures in this incident, and did so immediately.”
McNerney died after being assaulted during a robbery Oct. 4 in a parking lot at East Maiden and College streets while he and a friend were walking home from a bar. While both incidents happened off campus, Oosterhous said W&J officials are continuing to look at how student safety can be improved.
“It goes without saying that the safety and security of our campus is our very top priority,” she said.
Williams is free on $10,000 cash bond. A preliminary hearing is set for 1 p.m. Sept. 18 before Redlinger.