Twenty years ago Wyatt Jeffrey Cunningham, 62, was convicted of selling cocaine and was sentenced to state prison, where he served six months. That made him a felon, ineligible to own or use firearms.
The morning of July 2, Cunningham and his neighbor, Alain Chartrand, 68, had an argument over a $10 lawn-mowing bill. According to Chartrand and Cunningham both, Cunningham had shown up at his door either to cut grass or claim the money.
“Well, you know, the thing about it is that I had it out with the guy down the road, and, uh, he was supposed to owe ·me more money for, uh, cutting the grass or something like that,” Cunningham would later tell sheriff’s detectives, according to an investigative report. The two men are neighbors on Dunson Estate Road off of County Road 305 in west Flagler. “But I for $10 I’m not going to fucking, you know, shoot somebody’s fucking land up or something like that.” He added: “I’m a convicted felon so I’m not allowed any weapons.”
But Cunningham on Thursday (Nov. 7) was arrested on four counts of firing at an occupied house, each count a second degree felony. At least one of the bullets came very close to striking a woman.
The charges stem from the July incident, when Cunningham was briefly booked at the jail on a charge of illegally possessing firearms. He posted bail on $5,000 bond. But Thursday’s arrest carries a $100,000 bond, and is the result of an extensive, assiduous investigation by Flagler County Sheriff’s detectives that allegedly ties Cunningham to the weapon fired at two houses, with several unsuspecting and unprotected occupants in them, that July day–an incident that could have had far more dire consequences than it did.
The arrest on the latter charges had to wait until a Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysis confirmed that the bullets and fragments found in the houses that were shot up came from a rifle found in Cunningham’s house that day.
Early the afternoon of July 2, Chartrand called the sheriff’s office to report hearing gunshots and detecting fresh bullet holes in his house. The house had been fired at while Chartrand was inside, with friends. Chartrand was sitting in the living room with a 77 year old friend, and a 65-year-old friend, Maria Areizaga, was standing in the laundry room area with her back towards the southern door of the residence when she heard a noise she described as a “pop,” then several more pops.
It was gunshots, and she had no idea at the time how close she had been to a bullet’s trajectory, though based on the sounds, she told detectives she “started freaking out.”
An investigation indicated that “the two bullet holes observed on the exterior of the residence pierced the wall into the interior of the residence,” the laundry room where Areizaga had been standing, “with one leading to a corresponding hole and the other to a corresponding dent in the right side of the washing machine,” the investigative report states. “Fragments of a projectile were observed near the washing machine.”
Areizaga didn’t know that at the time. She left the house, got in her car–she lives in Bunnell–and drove toward County Road 2006, where she saw a white man with a gun head into a ditch in an apparent effort to hide. She described the weapon as a shotgun or a rifle, and the man who wielded it as having a “redneckish” and “unshaven” appearance.
Chartrand found three bullet holes in the door and wall at the southeast corner of the house. One of the bullets appeared to have traveled through the door and exited through the northern wall.
Chartrand suspected Cunningham, who’d allegedly claimed to own a “Mauser” German rifle.
Areizaga spoke of the incident to detectives in October. A detective had the case file in hand toward the end of the interview. The case filed included a picture of Cunningham. The detective was placing something in the case file when Areizaga saw the picture, and immediately said: “there he is… that’s him.” Detectives conducted a subsequent photo array. She picked out Cunningham again.
Chartrand’s house was not the only structure fired at.
Wilbur Ballard is a 77-year-old resident on the same street, next to Chartrand’s house. He’d been watching television around the same time when he reported gunfire as well. When he and a deputy conducted a check of the property, they found “a hole consistent with a bullet hole on the southern side of his shed,” the investigative report states, “a corresponding hole on the northern side of the shed, a corresponding hole on the exterior of the southern side of Wilbur’s residence, the latter of which is the wall to Wilbur’s bedroom.”
Investigators later found “an intact projectile … resting on a stack of DVD cases set to the left of the television in the living room.”
Ballard told deputies that he’d seen Cunningham in the past with a “high-powered German rifle that contained engravings.”
After Chartrand spoke with deputies that July day, detectives and crime scene investigators took over the scene. Cunningham agreed to speak with detectives in early afternoon, initially claiming he’d heard the shots, too, but would not do such a thing as fire a gun, nor wield a gun, because of his status as a felon. “It’s up to you guys. Whatever you want to do. [If] you want to search my house, get a search warrant,” he told the detectives. But he also told the detectives that they could “walk around and stuff like that.” When a detective asked him if they could check the property, Wyatt responded–according to the investigative report– “Oh absolutely… absolutely.” That conversation had taken place in his kitchen.
A detective then took a walk in the house before asking Cunningham about two firearms in a back room. Cunningham said they were BB guns, though ammunition found did not appear to match. Shown the firearms, Cunningham said they were not functional.
Shortly after a criminal background check, Cunningham was arrested on the charge of possession of a firearm as a felon.
The weapons were a bolt action Mauser rifle, and a 22 caliber Marlin Firearms Co. Revelation Western Auto Supply, according to the investigative report, along with various stacks of ammunition.
The Mauser was quite functional. FDLE test-fired it. The FDLE analysis tied the bullets in the two houses to the Mauser rifle.
“I am very proud of our team and the great work they did collecting and analyzing the evidence for these additional charges,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “This is a convicted felon and a dangerous guy who was willing to potentially kill somebody over $10.00. His neighbors and our community are much safer with him off the streets and behind bars.”
Cunningham faces up to 15 years in prison on each of the charges he faces.