Christopher Todd Lemke, a 70-year-old resident of 20 Rymen Lane in Palm Coast, was arrested and charged with two felony counts of aggravated assault after allegedly pointing his gun at neighbors and threatening to shoot them if they continued setting off Independence Day fireworks the night of July 4.
A pregnant woman and children were among the neighbors watching the fireworks.
According to his arrest report, Lemke himself told Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies that he confronted his neighbors with his Walther .22 caliber handgun as their fireworks were going over his house. He said he took his gun because “he was afraid due to being older and there being multiple people he was confronting,” he told deputies, according to his arrest report. He “claimed he did not point his firearm at anyone but only pointed at the ground when confronting neighbors.”
The person who called 911 had been visiting his father, friends and siblings to celebrate the occasion. Lemke, the caller told deputies, came out of his house to complain about the noise. He had a gun in his hand. That prompted the revelers to move down the street. About 15 minutes later, Lemke came out again, this time with the firearm’s green laser pointer on, and he said, according to the caller: “Next person to light one of those off is getting one of these.”
Deputies interviewed several neighbors who provided similar accounts, recalling Lemke’s words with only minor differences. One of the neighbors said Lemke did point the firearm at two people, one of whom stepped in front of his family to protect them. A third neighbor described Lemke as “agitated” the second time he came out, with the green laser on. A fourth neighbor also corroborated the account.
Lemke was booked at the Flagler County jail on $5,000 bond and ordered to nhave no contact with his neighbors and to surrender all firearms to the Sheriff’s Office pending the disposition of the case. He was still at the jail when this article initially published.
None of the revelers were arrested or cited, though some of them had broken the law: setting off fireworks without a permit in Palm Coast is illegal.
Palm Coast’s code is clear: “It is prohibited and unlawful for a person or entity to use, explode, or store, fireworks in the City,” unless the fireworks have been permitted, or are used for a legitimate agricultural or railroad purpose. The code is less clear on sparklers.
The ban used to be statewide. The legislature made the private setting off of fireworks on some dates, in some places, without a permit, more permissible. It did so in 2020, lifting the ban on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Independence Day.
“Unless a local ordinance prohibits them,” Sheriff Rick Staly said on WNZF’s Free For All Friday last week: the state law, in this case, does not override existing ordinances.
“So in the city of Flagler Beach and the city of Palm Coast, fireworks are prohibited,” the sheriff said. “Everyone else, they’re legal in the unincorporated areas and the towns that we have, because they don’t have an ordinance prohibiting it. So here’s the deal. For a deputy sheriff to make an arrest, we have to see the violation, and usually by the time we get there, from the citizen that calls in, the fireworks are over, or if we don’t see them light them where they are prohibited, we cannot make an arrest. Now, we can seize the fireworks and have them destroyed, those kinds of things.”
The sheriff and other local officials had been encouraging people to enjoy the fireworks show produced by local governments at the county airport Tuesday evening. The incident in the R Section took place around the same time as the officially sanctioned fireworks.