POLK COUNTY, Fla. – A man playing with a gun that he thought wasn’t loaded killed his half-brother when he pointed the firearm at the victim’s chest and pulled the trigger, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies responded to an accidental shooting in the Eaton Park area of Lakeland Wednesday around 8:12 p.m.
A preliminary investigation determined that the 21-year-old man was shot once in the chest by his half-brother, 19-year-old Tyler Nichols.
According to deputies, the 21-year-old died less than an hour later at a hospital.
Two other family members were in the house at the time, one of whom witnessed the shooting, a news release said.
According to officials, Nichols and his brother were horse-playing after eating dinner and were preparing to go to the store together to purchase blunt cigar wrappers that they could use to smoke marijuana.
"Nichols jokingly picked up a handgun, which he believed was unloaded, pointed it at his brother, and pulled the trigger,” deputies said.
Family members told authorities that the brothers were very close and had not been arguing.
“This is a horrible, terrible tragedy. Even if you think that the gun is unloaded, never point one at another person in jest. Tragic consequences can result,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Detectives determined that Nichols acted carelessly with the gun and charged him with manslaughter.
In addition to the manslaughter charge, Nichols was also charged with violation of pre-trial release, after detectives said he was on pre-trial release for shooting into a house in October 2019. The release prohibited him from owning any firearms.
Nichols is also charged with possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Nichols has an extensive criminal history, according to deputies.
“Tyler Nichols’ prior criminal history consists of seven felonies and six misdemeanors, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, shooting into a building, discharging a firearm from a vehicle, burglary, grand theft, tampering with evidence, battery and criminal mischief,” officials said.
Nichols was taken to the Polk County Jail.