The mother of a Southeast San Diego man shot to death, allegedly by a neighbor who was irate about a parking problem, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the neighbor in Superior Court.
Martha Copper of Alpine alleges in court documents that the "negligence" of retired junk-car dealer Sam Lewis caused the death of her son, Sean Nichols, who was 28 when he was killed Nov. 22 in his Gavin Street home.
Lewis, 73, is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of Nichols and his friend, Robert Rose, 33. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday in San Diego Municipal Court.
Prosecutors say that the confrontation that left Nichols and Rose dead erupted after Lewis became angry about a car that was blocking his driveway. Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Eichler said Lewis grabbed a .32-caliber revolver, walked across the street and confronted Nichols through his screen door before firing two fatal shots into the small living room.
Lewis, who had lived on Gavin Street for about 15 years, then walked back home, asked his wife, Bertha, to call police, and turned himself in.
Fired With No Warning
An eyewitness who was in the living room at the time of the shooting told police that an "angry" Lewis opened fire even though Nichols had offered to ask a friend in the rear of the home to move the offending car.
But defense attorney Millie Durovic said Lewis shot Nichols and Rose in self-defense, believing they were going for guns. No weapons were found in the house, but Durovic said Lewis heard Nichols ask another person in the home to get him a gun and that he feared for his life.
The lawsuit, filed a week ago, seeks unspecified general and compensatory damages. But, in an interview Monday, Copper said that she and her husband, Tom, were not motivated by hopes of financial gain in suing Lewis.
"This is not about money, because there is no amount of money that can bring back my son," Copper said. "Nothing is going to make it right. But there have been all these suggestions that this man was justified in doing this, that he had a reason. Well, we just can't take that. We just got tired of it."
Tide of Support
Copper was referring to the tide of support Lewis has received from friends and community members, who founded a "Sam Lewis Support Fund" and raised enough money to bail the Mississippi native out of jail in time for Christmas.
Many supporters have painted Lewis as a sort of folk hero, suggesting in interviews and in letters to newspapers that he was justified in shooting Nichols and Rose. At the same time, the two victims have been portrayed as drug dealers who "tormented" the elderly Lewis, although police say there is no evidence supporting those conclusions.
The Coppers' attorney, Peter S. Doft, said the civil action against Lewis alleges that "whatever justification Mr. Lewis might think he had in shooting Mr. Nichols, he was mistaken in that belief."