Gary Hills, a 68-year-old resident of 71 Sandy Beach Walk in north Flagler County, who Sheriff Rick Staly said had allegedly “held his wife hostage overnight” after beating her, holding a gun to her head and threatening to kill her, the dog and himself, shot himself in the mouth just as deputies were knocking at his door Wednesday morning. He survived, but he faces assault and battery charges.
“When we knocked on the door he got up, put the gun to his mouth and pulled the trigger,” Staly said. Hills’s wife had told deputies that she had collected all the weapons in the house, so deputies were under the impression that Hills was unarmed when they went to his door. “We think that had she come home he was waiting for her. Fortunately our deputies were the ones that knocked on the door. I’m glad he didn’t try to do a suicide by cop or shoot one of my deputies.”
The woman, who is 66, spoke with a sheriff’s deputy at Bing’s Landing Wednesday morning, before deputies went to the house. She told deputies an argument developed between her and Hills the night before, after she’d found messages on her husband’s phone “that involved him speaking with another woman about going out for drinks,” according to a sheriff’s incident report. Hills then confronted the woman, wanting to know where his phone was. She denied taking the phone. They argued. He became upset with her “and punched her in the face and grabbed her by the neck and threw her to the ground.” He then allegedly grabbed a firearm, placed it to her head and made the threats on her life, his and the dog’s.
The woman said she did not immediately call 911 for being in fear for her life. She subsequently drove to Bing’s Landing to meet deputies there. Sandy Beach Way is part of a small subdivision at the northern end of Flagler on the barrier island, in the Beach Haven neighborhood. One of the firearms she had in her possession, a Ruger SR9 9mm, was the one she said Hills had held against her head. She had “a very a noticeable bruised left eye that was very swollen as well as marks on her neck,” the report states.
Deputies then responded to the Sandy Beach Way house to make contact with Hills. Two deputies could see him through the glass at the front door. One deputy saw him raise “a smaller black in [color] firearm into his mouth and pull the trigger, firing one round into his upper mouth area,” the report states. They forced entry due to the obvious, exigent circumstances and began life-saving measures, including CPR, until paramedics arrived. He was then airlifted to Halifax hospital in Daytona Beach.
Charges against him are on standby pending his recovery. “Depending on his injuries he can clearly be criminally charged for the assault that he did on his wife,” Staly said in an interview. “I don’t think we’d make a physical arrest. We’d file an information on the state.” Staly said he would not, through a physical arrest, want to burden taxpayers with the cost of Hills’s medical care. “I’m just glad he didn’t kill her or he did not hurt or kill one of my deputies.”
On WNZF’s daily update on the coronavirus emergency, Staly this morning said domestic violence calls have “increased pretty dramatically in the last few weeks. Fortunately we’re getting calls before they turn violent in most cases, so our domestic violence cases are actually down, but the disturbances are increasing.” He continued: “This is going to be a prolonged event, not like a hurricane you can watch coming, prepare and see it go by and then clean up. This is the invisible, silent enemy, you don’t know where it is, and so this is weighing on our community. There’s fear in the community, there’s concern in the community, people are wondering how they’re going to pay their bills, and my deputies recognize all that, too.”
April happens to be Domestic and Sexual Violence Awareness Month.