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Teens allegedly playing Russian Roulette in Burton charged with friend’s death

An October night hanging out with friends took a deadly turn
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 6:00 PM EST
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BURTON, Mich. (WJRT) - Three Mid-Michigan teenagers are behind bars accused of watching their friend shoot himself.

The Genesee County prosecutor said they stood by and did nothing.

Burton Police responded to a home on Packard Street around 2:30 a.m. Oct. 24, 2020. Zander Smith died from the shooting. He would’ve turned 18-years-old Friday.

Smith’s family has been vocal on social media, asking for someone to be held responsible for his death.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said it took nearly five months to bring charges because his office had to send the case back to the Burton Police Department a few times asking for more investigative information.

“If you want to shoot a gun, you shouldn’t drink, you shouldn’t smoke marijuana, you shouldn’t take anything that can alter your ability to think clearly,” he said.

But that’s exactly what Leyton said the group of four friends were doing that October night.

He explained they were hanging out at one of their homes on Packard Street in Burton. They shot a black revolver off a few times in the woods near the home. And then, Leyton said, they went back inside and that’s when their friend shot himself with that same gun.

“It appears they were playing Russian Roulette,” Leyton said. “Now, it’s unclear whether or not everybody was participating, or just the one young man who spun a cylinder and put the gun up to his head.”

Leyton is now charging those three friends with one count of involuntary manslaughter. He said they knew Zander Smith left one bullet in the revolver.

“I mean, who just sits there and doesn’t, doesn’t intervene?” Leyton asked. “I think it’s grossly negligent for them to just sit there and do nothing.”

Two of the boys, who are 17 and 19, are charged as adults, so they’re facing up to 15 years in prison. The third was 16 years old at the time, so he’ll face less time for the same charge. Leyton said he wanted to charge them all as juveniles.

“I can tell you, I’m not sitting here advocating that these three young men need to be locked up forever,” he said. “I hope they get a wake up call about the dangers of what they did.”

Burton police’s initial report said the responding officers found several stolen items in the home, which were connected to recent burglaries in the area. Leyton said they looked into charges for those potential crimes, but couldn’t get a case together.

So what can be done to prevent a similar tragedy among teenagers? Leyton said kids need to learn about proper gun ownership and usage at a young age. He believes as a result these types of crimes will happen less often over time.

Leyton is working with State Rep. John Cherry to pass a law in Michigan that would hold irresponsible gun owners accountable. The consequences range from a misdemeanor if children get their hands on the gun to a 15-year felony if children shoot and kill themselves.

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