Horner civil suit stands

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva has rejected a request by Nicholas A. Horner and his parents to dismiss a civil lawsuit brought against them because of a 2009 shooting spree by Horner that killed two people and wounded a third.

Horner is serving life plus 29-59 years in prison for the April 6, 2009, deaths of Scott Garlick, 19, a high school student working at Subway on 58th Street in Altoona, and Raymond Williams, 64, a retired insurance executive who lived several blocks away from the shop.

Horner killed the two men during the robbery and his getaway attempt.

In the process of robbing Subway, Horner also shot another employee, Michele L. Petty, 36, of Hollidaysburg, in the hip. She suffered permanent injuries that continue to give her pain.

In November, Petty and her husband, Gerald A. Petty Jr., filed a civil lawsuit against Horner and his parents, Daniel E. Horner and Karen A. Horner, who live in Johnstown, charging that Horner should not have been in possession of a gun that day.

The .45-caliber handgun was owned by Horner’s father, and the parents allowed him to carry the weapon, according to the lawsuit filed by Hollidaysburg attorney Joseph J. Nypaver.

Nypaver charged that Horner’s parents were negligent for allowing him to carry the gun, knowing that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his Army service in Iraq as well as several other mental health conditions.

“A registered gun owner must never needlessly endanger the public by allowing a person to continue possession of their handgun when they know or have reason to know the person is not competent to possess a handgun,” Nypaver charged in his civil lawsuit.

Horner’s attorneys during his homicide trial last year admitted the robbery and killings were not a “whodunit.”

They instead focused on Horner’s mental health conditions and the drugs he was taking as a way to argue that he did not possess the intent to kill when committing the robbery.

The defense attorney for the Horner family, John W. Heslop, in November filed preliminary objections asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

Kopriva on Thursday said that a civil case can be dismissed at this early date “only in cases that are so clear and free from doubt that the [Pettys] will be unable to prove legally sufficient facts to establish any right to relief.”

The lawsuit, said the judge, pointed out that Daniel and Karen Horner “knew or should have known” that [their son], in possession of a handgun, would engage in violent behavior.”

At this stage in the legal proceeding, Kopriva concluded, the Pettys have presented a factual situation that could provide a basis for a jury to find that the Horners acted with reckless indifference and established at a minimum that the claim for punitive damages can go forward as part of the matter.

Kopriva stated that the defense has 20 days to answer the lawsuit.