LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A 32-year-old man shot himself in the head during a firefight with police officers in Louisville as horrified witnesses watched the chaotic scene unfold.
Dustin Wayne South died Wednesday night at the scene, in a field behind Lassiter Middle School, a normally peaceful neighborhood in the southern part of the city.
Two bullets fired by police struck South, but neither was lethal, said Jo-Ann Farmer, chief deputy coroner. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Cherylyan Rayhel told The Associated Press that she watched from a window as South waved a gun and fired into the air just behind her house about 8 p.m. Officers yelled three times for him to drop the gun, but instead he raised it and pointed it at them, she said. Gunfire erupted. She did not see the man turn the gun on himself.
"I saw him fall; I screamed," Rayhel said Thursday morning. "I haven't slept all night."
The Louisville Metro Police Department identified the officers involved as Rondall Carpenter and Zachary Cooke. Both officers are white, and South was also white. The officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
It is the second fatal shoot involving Carpenter in less than a year. Last October, he and another officer, Skylar Graudick, were involved in a shooting that killed 38-year-old William Chad Mattingly, who had allegedly fired on the officers. The shooting remains under review with the commonwealth's attorney.
On Wednesday night, Rayhel said she saw South fighting with a woman in the street in front of her house, just around the corner from South's home on Flicker Road. South, weeping, hugged a young boy who was with the couple and turned to leave, Rayhel said. The boy tried to chase him, but the woman held him back.
Neighbors described South as friendly and sweet. Sherri Reynolds said she often saw him in the neighborhood, playing with a little boy.
But she said he'd recently seemed troubled.
Last week, he went out for a drive "to clear his emotions," he would later tell police. He "was unaware of his surroundings" and careened his truck off Northwestern Parkway in Shawnee, according to court records. He slid down a hill into the Shawnee Golf Course. He tried to drive through the golf course to find an exit, but got stuck in the mud, damaging a green as he tried to drive free. South was cited for criminal mischief and scheduled to appear in court for arraignment later this month.
A year earlier, last May, he was arrested on allegations of domestic assault. His wife told police he came home drunk, became aggressive and pushed her 14-year-old daughter out of his way. She got between them, she said, and he pushed her into a countertop.
He pleaded guilty days later to the lesser charge of harassment with physical contact. He completed alcohol treatment and domestic violence programs, and the court set aside the conviction.
Rayhel, who just moved to the neighborhood, did not know South. After he walked away from the confrontation with the woman, he disappeared around her house, noticeably agitated, toward a field between her backyard and the middle school.
Alone and frightened, she ran to her kitchen window that overlooks the field. She saw him wave a gun around and fire several times. It was close enough to rattle her windows, she said.
She called 911 around 8 p.m. and pleaded for help. Officers arrived minutes later, she said.
Rayhel called her mother, still watching from her window as the officers closed in on South. They yelled for him to drop his gun.
Shawn Jones, an eighth-grader, was with two friends behind the school when he heard the commotion and saw the man waving the handgun in the air. The man kept firing into the sky, he said.
The officers yelled a second time for him to drop the gun, Rayhel said. She told her mother she was afraid they were going to kill him in her backyard.
"Baby, just look away," she recalls her mother telling her. The officers shouted for the man to drop his gun a third time and Rayhel looked back up as gunshots rang out and South slumped to the ground.
The coroner on Thursday formally ruled his death a suicide.