DECATUR, TN (WRCB) - A Meigs County, Tenn., man is dead after detectives say he accidentally shot himself while driving down the road.
It happened around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday on Highway 58 South of Decatur. The Meigs County Sheriff's Office says 49-year-old James "Tony" McKenzie had a valid carry permit and had a gun on him as he drove alone in his car, heading north. What happened next has rocked the rural community.
Three witnesses reported seeing a car suddenly cross both lanes, stopping abruptly in a gravel pull-off. They called 911 thinking the driver may have had a seizure, but when emergency responders arrived that wasn't the case at all and the man was dead.
"He was shot in the upper thigh area in his left leg and looks like it probably hit his femoral artery and just bled out," Meigs County Lt. Detective Scotty Wiggins said.
Detectives say evidence showed it was clearly an accidental shooting. The family of victim Tony McKenzie says he always carried that gun on him, but what nobody understands is why it unexpectedly fired while he was driving.
"Don't know how it happened," Det. Wiggins said.
What's being considered a freak accident has shaken the tight-knit community where most people knew him personally.
"His family are well known people in the community. It's not easy sometimes having to tell people what's happened," Det. Wiggins said.
"It was a shock," Meigs County resident Paul Erwin said.
Paul Erwin saw the police lights at the scene and was heart-broken to learn what happened to one of his long-time customers from when his grocery store was still open.
"I couldn't believe it after I found out it was him," Erwin said.
He says McKenzie was a social man who always stuck around the store to visit with folks.
"He was a nice, nice, nice fella," Erwin said.
Detective Wiggins hopes to never see an accident like this again.
"If you're around your gun I'd make sure it's not cocked or doesn't have one chambered in the barrel if you have it in your vehicle," Det. Wiggins said.
The Meigs County Sheriff's Office says an autopsy was not necessary and the death investigation is closed.