Atlanta lawyer Claud “Tex” McIver was riding in an SUV near Piedmont Park Sunday when the vehicle hit a bump and a gun in his lap accidentally fired, fatally wounding his wife in the back, a family spokesman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Diane McIver was taken to Emory University Hospital on Clifton Road and died in surgery several hours later. She had pulled a .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver from the console of their 2013 Ford Expedition after the couple became alarmed by people who approached the vehicle, spokesman and family friend Bill Crane told the AJC. They were also concerned about recent Black Lives Matter protests in the area, Crane said.
The incident involves a well-connected Atlanta power couple. Tex McIver was a veteran labor and employment lawyer with deep ties in Republican politics. Diane McIver was a prominent businesswoman whose company won millions of dollars in a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta alleging favoritism in airport contracts.
“It’s a tragedy. They are two great professionals, philanthropists,” Crane said.
Crane is the only person who has offered any details about the incident. Atlanta police are investigating but have said little and declined to comment again on Friday. The incident report they issued this week did not identify the driver of the SUV and did not even say Tex McIver was in the car.
Legal experts said Friday McIver could face criminal charges.
“Either this is an intentional homicide or a terrible accident,” said J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb County district attorney.
Even if authorities confirm the account offered by Crane, McIver could still face a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct, Morgan said.
The extraordinary events unfolded Sunday night as the McIvers traveled from their farm in rural Putnam County to their home in Buckhead. Tex McIver was in the back seat and Diane McIver was in the front passenger seat, Crane said.
Trying to avoid traffic congestion, their driver exited the Downtown Connector at Edgewood Avenue, where they became briefly lost, Crane said. When they drove near the homeless shelter at Peachtree and Pine streets, Crane said, several individuals approached the SUV, and Diane McIver fished out the gun and handed it to her husband in the back seat. The weapon was wrapped in a plastic Publix bag, according to Crane.
The couple left the area unharmed. But a little more than a mile later, on Piedmont Avenue near the park, the SUV hit a bump and the gun went off, Crane said. The .38 was still inside the Publix bag, Crane said.
He said McIver does not remember firing the revolver. McIver was leaning back in the seat and nodding off when the Expedition hit the bump and the revolver fired, Crane said.
There was no 911 call to authorities, although Crane said someone in the Expedition placed a call to the hospital.
Crane said the couple had not been drinking.
The McIver case is one of several high-profile shootings in metro Atlanta that participants said were accidents.
In August 2015, former Peachtree City Police Chief William McCollom pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the New Year’s Day shooting that left his former wife paralyzed.
McCollom, charged with reckless conduct for shooting Margaret McCollom in their bed, was sentenced to 12 months of unsupervised probation and fined $1,000 fine by a Fayette County court. The chief, who resigned in March 2015, said the shooting was an accident.
In August of this year, Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill pleaded no contest to reckless conduct charges in connection with an shooting last year in Gwinnett County. The victim, Gwenevere McCord, said the shooting was accidental and asked that Hill not face any charges. As part of his plea, Hill was to serve 12 months on probation and pay a $1,000 fine.
Natalie Woodward, an Atlanta attorney not connected with the McIver episode, drew parallels to those two cases but noted the key difference: the victims in the two other shootings survived. She said McIver could face a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter — the taking of a life without intent in a reckless manner.
Woodward said police would be looking for evidence — witness accounts or videotape — of people approaching the couple’s car near the homeless shelter.
She also said the case raises questions. Why didn’t the couple call 911 initially? Why didn’t they go to the nearest hospital — Emory Midtown and Piedmont Atlanta were close by — rather than traveling to Emory University Hospital?
“It’s not one or two parts that don’t make sense, it’s several,” Woodward said
Also among the questions: how much force does it take to fire a revolver accidentally when hitting a bump?
John Monroe, a lawyer for the gun rights group Georgia Carry, said the pressure required to fire the pistol would depend on whether it was cocked. If it was, three to five pounds of pressure would pull the trigger — roughly equivalent to pressing a key on a piano. If it wasn’t cocked, firing the gun would require about 12 to 15 pounds of pressure, which Monroe likened to igniting a butane stick lighter.
“That’s a fairly decent amount of force,” he said.
It is not known whether the weapon was cocked. Monroe said, however, it would be “less likely that you would cock a revolver in a plastic shopping bag.”
Morgan, the former DA, also said McIver’s story raises questions. He said he would want a ballistics expert to look at the scenario of the gun going off accidentally.
Noting that he has been around a lot of guns, Morgan said, “If it goes off accidentally there’s usually a finger on the trigger.”
In a case like this, the testimony of the driver, the only other person in the car with the couple, could be critically important.
“A lot of people are scratching their heads on this,” said Morgan, who also teaches criminal law at Western Carolina University. “A lot of us have gone all over Atlanta day and night without having to pull a gun.”