Marine veteran tried to confront a tailgating driver and was shot in the head, officials say
By KRISTINE PHILLIPS | The Washington Post | Published: February 6, 2018
An off-duty Arizona fire captain was shot and killed in an alleged road-rage incident Sunday by a man who told investigators he thought his gun was not loaded, authorities said.
Kyle Brayer, a retired Marine and 10-year veteran of the Tempe (Arizona) Fire Medical Rescue Department, was riding in a golf cart with friends early Sunday morning in Scottsdale when a man in a red Scion coupe began driving closely, nearly hitting the back of the cart, police said.
After the cart pulled up to a stop sign, Brayer walked over to the coupe and was shot in the head, according to police. The 34-year-old died at a hospital.
The shooting was followed by an hours-long manhunt for the driver, who had fled the scene, striking several cars along the way, police said. Hezron Parks, 21, surrendered about 10 hours later after seeing reports on the local TV news that authorities were searching for him.
The Phoenix man has been charged with second-degree murder.
Parks told officers that he "felt threatened" by Brayer and that pulling the trigger of his .40-caliber handgun was justified. Court documents also say, however, that Parks did not think there was a round in the chamber.
The incident happened in Scottsdale, Arizona's bar district. Parks told investigators that he had been kicked out of a few clubs earlier that night and had a fight with a security guard. About 2:30 a.m., witnesses saw him come close to rear-ending the golf cart several times, court records say.
After the cart stopped, Brayer got out and walked over to the driver side of the Scion with his hands in the air, court records say. He was leaning toward the open window when witnesses saw Parks holding a handgun.
Parks told investigators that Brayer and his friends were "saying things to him, but he could not tell us what" the group had said, the officers wrote in court records. Parks also claimed that Brayer kicked the hood of his car, though witnesses said the Scion was close enough to the cart for Brayer — who was riding backward — to place his foot on the hood from his seat.
Sgt. Ben Hoster, a spokesman for the Scottsdale Police Department, told reporters Sunday that investigators do not know why Parks was driving so close to the cart or whether there was an exchange between the two men before Brayer was shot.
It also remains unclear whether they knew each other.
"We don't know the motive and we don't know what preceded it other than the red car was striking the golf cart," Hoster said. "We know that this was very erratic behavior on the roadway leading up to the shooting."
Police do not know whether Parks had passengers with him, Hoster said.
Brayer is the second Tempe firefighter to die within the past six months. Capt. Frank Reed died in a swimming incident in October in Portugal, city officials said.
"Tempe lost one of our own to an act of senseless violence," Mayor Mark Mitchell said in a tweet Sunday. "Brayer was a valued member of our Fire Medical Rescue Team & my thoughts go out to his family, friends & fellow firefighters."
Brayer, a captain at Tempe Fire Station 6, had spent a decade with the department. In 2016, he helped launch a program that identified veterans with severe health problems and provided them with in-home medical care.
"In the past, when we'd respond, you know, lights and sirens, we'd show up to these patients and we didn't really have a way to identify them before the incident happened, so we're kind of limited on what we can do," Brayer said in a 2017 interview about the Veterans Telemedicine Program. "So we basically put a Band-Aid on the problem. We can stabilize a patient and get them over to the hospital, where they may get released and still have the same issues. We didn't fix the problem."
Greg Ruiz, the fire chief, called Brayer "an exceptional man" who cared about his community.
"The death of our brother is a tragedy," he said in a statement.
Brayer, who graduated from Arizona State University, joined the Marine Corps in 2001 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to an ASU news article. He was in Iraq for nine months and also did humanitarian work in the Philippines, according to the article.
"I had wanted to be a Marine since I was 10 years old," Bayer said in 2011. "My family was very patriotic. We flew the flag every day, and my grandfather was a decorated World War II veteran who was regional director of the American Legion in Arizona."
Parks is being held on a $300,000 bond and is scheduled back in court next week.