Club told gun event was safe, official says

Boy killed himself accidentally in ’08

Steven Sklarski testified yesterday during the manslaughter trial of the former Pelham police chief, Edward Fleury, an organizer of the gun shoot, yesterday in Springfield. Steven Sklarski testified yesterday during the manslaughter trial of the former Pelham police chief, Edward Fleury, an organizer of the gun shoot, yesterday in Springfield. (Michael S. Gordon/ Springfield Republican via Associated Press)
By Dave Collins
Associated Press / January 11, 2011

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SPRINGFIELD — The gun club where an 8-year-old boy accidentally killed himself with an Uzi had first agreed to hold a machine gun shoot a decade ago when the organizer told club officials it was legal and safe, one of those officials testified yesterday.

Steven Sklarski, recording secretary for the Westfield Sportsman’s Club, testified on the fifth day of the manslaughter trial of Edward Fleury, the former Pelham police chief.

The club had held the event for seven years without a problem before Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., accidentally shot himself in the head in 2008 when the 9mm micro Uzi he was firing kicked back at him. Fleury, whose company cosponsored the shoot, pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and furnishing machine guns to minors.

“Mr. Fleury approached the club and said they would like to have a machine gun shoot that was safe and legal,’’ Sklarski testified.

Sklarski said Fleury was the event’s main organizer and was responsible for having the machine guns brought in, while the Sportsman’s Club provided the venue and received an undisclosed percentage of the proceeds. Sklarski, who is a firefighter and paramedic, said he was at the main gate when the boy shot himself. He said he heard “cease fire, cease fire’’ over his walkie-talkie, grabbed a medical bag and ran over to the scene, where he saw Christopher on the ground with a head injury. “I tried to get close to him, but there were other men around him,’’ he said.

One of the other men was Christopher’s father, an emergency room doctor who videotaped the shooting. The jury last week saw the video, which prompted a collective gasp in the courtroom.

Prosecutor William Bennett has alleged that Fleury’s reckless and illegal actions led to Christopher’s death, and that it is illegal for minors to shoot machine guns. Fleury’s lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio, says Fleury wasn’t responsible for the accident and has blamed the boy’s father, Charles Bizilj, for letting Christopher shoot a dangerous weapon. She also has argued that there is an exemption in state law that allows minors to shoot machine guns if they are supervised by someone with a firearms license.

Scapicchio also noted that Charles Bizilj had signed a waiver acknowledging the risks, including death, and clearing anyone of liability if something bad happened.

Hampden Superior Court Judge Peter Velis told jurors yesterday that deliberations could begin tomorrow, if not earlier, pending any courthouse closure from a snowstorm that is expected to begin late today or early tomorrow. It is not clear if Fleury will testify.

Prosecutors have said that Charles Bizilj was not charged because he based his decision to allow his two sons, including then-11-year-old Colin, to fire the gun on information from others who should have known it was too dangerous. Charles Bizilj testified last week that he and his two sons were looking forward to the shoot, and he thought the event would be safe and well supervised.

Domenico Spano of New Milford, Conn., and Carl Giuffre of Hartford were also charged with involuntary manslaughter and await trial after pleading not guilty. They brought the machine guns to the gun fair, and both had machine gun licenses.