DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An off-duty county jailer who had been drinking caused fear when he brandished a handgun during a brawl at a crowded car show at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, witnesses and police said Tuesday.
John McCormick, 45, pulled out the concealed weapon Saturday night at the 28th Speedway Motors Heartland Nationals Giant Car Show, State Fair Police Commander Doug Phillips said. The three-day event featured 4,000 cars and a crowd of up to 10,000 people, he said.
Phillips said he temporarily seized McCormick's firearm and permit to carry and banned him and another man from the fairgrounds, where guns are not allowed. No charges have been filed, and the incident remains under investigation.
Phillips said there are conflicting accounts as to who started the fight. But it began after McCormick confronted a 69-year-old driver who had done multiple burnouts in his car on a street near young children. McCormick and some others believed the maneuvers, which involve spinning a vehicle's wheels to cause the tires to smoke, posed a safety risk. Other witnesses disputed that.
McCormick, a jailer at the Boone County Sheriff's Department, said he was the victim in the fight that ensued, and that he pulled his gun when he feared for his life and his wife's life as the crowd grew.
"I'd do it again if it came down to it," he said, when reached by phone while working at the jail on Tuesday.
He said he was not intoxicated, and that he was later allowed to get his gun and permit back.
Phillips said that McCormick and others involved in the brawl had been drinking but that he didn't believe McCormick was drunk.
But two witnesses expressed outrage that McCormick has not faced criminal charges. They described McCormick as the aggressor during the fight with James Welshons and that he pulled out the handgun as others were breaking up the melee. They say McCormick identified himself as a sheriff's department employee to the crowd.
"He did so many illegal things and it's going to get swept under the rug," said Kevin Pennington, who said McCormick put the gun in his face as he tried to break up the fight. "He was waving it around and threatening everybody."
The presence of the gun caused some in the crowd to yell warnings and run away. Three people called 911, according to audio files released Tuesday.
One of the callers, Benjamin Sieleman, 19, told a dispatcher that McCormick "did pull a gun out to a crowd of people and he's plastered drunk." Sieleman said that McCormick and another man instigated the fight, and pulled out the gun only after Welshons fought back against both men.
Phillips said that Welshons' driving was a legitimate safety concern but that McCormick and others should have called police instead of confronting him.
But other witnesses disputed that Welshons was doing anything particularly unsafe. They noted that other drivers were performing similar maneuvers, which are common at car shows, and were cheered on by spectators.