An Arkansas grocery store chain is now facing a negligence lawsuit following a straw purchase that resulted in the murder of an elderly couple.
The lawsuit, filed last Friday by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence on behalf of the estate of the two deceased victims, Donald Rice, 75, and Ladonna Rice, 71, claims that the Harps Food Store in Mountain Home, Arkansas “knew or should have known” that the customer exchanging cash for the pistol wasn’t the actual buyer.
The actual purchaser of the 9mm pistol was later identified as Nicholas Ian Roos. Less than 24 hours after obtaining the handgun, Roos shot and killed the Rices in their home in Midway, Arkansas.
According to the lawsuit, Roos went to Harps Store No. 135 with Talmadge Beigh Pendergrass on Nov. 6, 2015. Roos informed Pendergrass that he could not legally purchase a handgun because he had been confined to a mental institution earlier that year. Roos then asked Pendergrass to purchase the pistol for him. Surveillance footage filmed by Harps shows Roos picking out the gun and then handing Pendergrass cash in the store to make the purchase.
“Harps knew or should have known, paying for a gun with someone else’s money is a strong indicator of a straw purchase, and that the transfer is a straw purchase,” states the lawsuit. “Although Harps knew and had reason to know that there were multiple strong indicators of a straw sale, the Harps clerk ran the background check on Pendergrass rather than Roos.”
Brady Center Vice President Jonathan Lowy, who is also acting as co-counsel on the case, said, “While most gun dealers care deeply about their responsibility to keep guns out of the wrong hands, unfortunately some gun dealers put profits over people, and endanger us all. When a gun dealer chooses to engage in irresponsible sales practices that arm dangerous people, they should be held responsible.”
The clerk that ran the background check and sold the firearm was 17 at the time of the transaction. There are questions about whether it is lawful for someone that age to work as a clerk at an FFL. It appears that it’s lawful provided it doesn’t violate state law and the 17-year-old has written permission from a parent or guardian.
Federal law states, “an individual less than 21 years of age may sell handguns and ammunition suitable for use in handguns. However, a person less than 18 years of age must have the prior written consent of a parent or guardian and the written consent must be in the person’s possession at all times. Also, the parent of guardian giving the written consent may not be prohibited by law from possessing a firearm. Moreover, State law must not prohibit a person less than 18 years of age from possessing the handguns or ammunition.”
Roos pleaded guilty to capital murder on May 24, 2016, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Pendergrass was convicted this past November for making a false statement in the acquisition of a firearm, a felony offense. He was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison.