An Ozark man faces a felony charge and a civil lawsuit after he allegedly pointed a gun at a local Democratic activist whose political bumper stickers he disliked.
Edward K. Burns, 48, of Ozark has been charged with unlawful use of a weapon, a class E felony, after an alleged Aug. 24 road rage incident described in Christian County court documents.
Ozark police officers were dispatched that morning to a reported two-vehicle crash on northbound U.S. 65, according to a probable cause statement. They knew ahead of time there was a possibility one of the drivers was armed with a firearm.
Officers determined there was a road rage incident involving Burns and Laura Umphenour, an activist who is a fixture at local left-leaning protests.
According to the statement, both drivers "exchanged offensive hand gestures" and at one point, Umphenour allegedly pulled up alongside Burns and flipped him the bird.
At that point, Burns allegedly pulled a Smith & Wesson .380 handgun from his hip holster and pointed it at Umphenour, police said in the statement.
After being read a Miranda warning, Burns "confessed to pointing a gun at (Umphenour) in an attempt to get her to back off," police said. "...During his confession he noted several political decals, which expressed a different political view than his own, on the rear of (Umphenour's) van; which he thought were stupid."
Burns told police he was "very angry" when Umphenour flipped him off.
"(Burns) indicated at no time was he 'scared' of (Umphenour), and indicated he only displayed the gun in an attempt to stop the road rage incident," police said in the statement. "(Burns) said he wanted (Umphenour) to know not to mess with him."
Police also wrote that Burns cooperated with them and "admitted he made a bad decision."
Burns is being represented in this case by local attorney Joseph Passanise, who was in court Wednesday afternoon when the News-Leader asked for comment.
Online court documents indicate Burns was held for a few days before posting bond, which was set at $5,000. When he appeared in court with Passanise the day after the alleged incident, he pleaded not guilty.
Burns does not appear to have any previous judicial history, according to online court records.
Umphenour contacted the News-Leader, identifying herself as the alleged victim and notifying a reporter that she planned to file a civil petition against Burns.
Her attorney, David Ransin, gave a detailed explanation about the reasoning and goals of the civil lawsuit.
"This is a very serious and important case in our community because we don't need hotheads on the highways taking the law in their own hands," Ransin said. "And it is the ultimate of distracted driving when you're going down an interstate focusing on pointing a loaded weapon at another driver and demonstrates a lack of value of other human life both for Laura and for other innocent members of our community."
Ransin said Umphenour believes she should be "fully compensated for harms and losses" and said she was "physically and emotionally traumatized" by the crash. He also said she believes Burns should not be allowed to carry a concealed weapon.
The civil case had not yet been filed as of Wednesday afternoon.
Ransin acknowledged that Umphenour's decision to flip off the other driver indicated "equally poor judgment, but she didn't pull out a fully loaded weapon and point the barrel at his face."
This case could foster meaningful dialogue about the seriousness of pointing a loaded weapon at another person, Ransin said.
"Our differences should bind us, not divide us," he said. "And you shouldn't go ballistic over bumper stickers."
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