An Orange County man will spend at least three years in prison after a road-rage incident last Halloween that ended with a bullet lodged in a 4-year-old child’s car safety seat.
Kelly Brandon Long, 42, of Hurdle Mills pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling or moving vehicle. Four other charges were dismissed as part of the plea bargain.
Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour sentenced Long to roughly five to seven years in prison (64 to 89 months), much less than the 380-month maximum that he could have received, Baddour said.
Long could be released on supervised parole after 38 months, Baddour said.
Long turned himself and his 9mm handgun in to the Sheriff’s Office after being identified by the victim’s description of his Jeep, video from Ring doorbells in the area, and from statements his wife made to 911 while she was a passenger in his Jeep Patriot.
The wife’s statements made it appear that she “was entreating him to not fire his firearm,” Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jeff Nieman said.
Long and his family contend the other driver, Gerrell Long, who is not related to Kelly Long, fired at them first, Niemann and the family said Monday. Gerrell Long and his family were not in court Monday, out of concern for their child, Nieman said.
Different stories about what happened
There are different accounts about what led to the shooting, which started just before 7 p.m. Oct. 31, 2022, Nieman said.
Gerrell Long was taking his son, who was dressed as a fireman, out trick-or-treating when the chase began, Nieman said. Long’s family said after court that he started chasing Gerrell Long in an attempt to get him to stop after Long’s Jeep Patriot was rear-ended.
The chase spanned several miles from N.C. 86 north of Hillsborough to U.S. 70 and surrounding streets and, at some point, Long began firing his gun at Gerrell Long’s Malibu, Nieman said. Long finally gave up the chase, driving away, and Gerrell Long pulled into a gas station, where he met with Hillsborough police and Orange County deputies.
A search of the Malibu found a bullet hole in the trunk that punctured a basketball and went through the car’s back seat, lodging in the child safety seat, Nieman said. The bullet stopped just shy of hitting the boy, he said, but left a slight burn in the shape of a circle on his back.
His father, Gerrell Long, was not injured.
“This is a harrowing set of circumstances to say the least,” Nieman said.
“It is by the grace of God that this was not a homicide or at the very least an assault that resulted in very serious injures to (the child),” he said.
Gerrell Long and his family supported the plea deal but asked to be excused from court because their son has developed a fear of the night and of strangers and Halloween, Nieman said.
Despite the Long family’s contention that their Jeep was fired on first, Gerrell Long did not have a prior criminal record, Nieman said, and law enforcement did not find a gun in his car or any evidence that he had fired a gun.
An apology to the family
Long lost his driver’s license and his job with Orange County’s solid waste department after being arrested, defense attorney Don Dickerson said.
As a result, the father of five children, who also has two grandchildren, has taken what work he can get to support his family, Dickerson said. Long also doesn’t have a prior criminal record and has received strong support from his community, which shows he is not a violent person, Dickerson said.
“It was a bad, bad, bad decision and very bad judgment, and fortunately, no one was seriously injured,” Dickerson said. “I hope the court recognizes that when this many people come to court, this man’s reputation in his community is not a man of violence.”
Long spoke to the court before being sentenced, apologizing to the child’s family. He didn’t know there was a “little one” in the car, he said, although that “shouldn’t have mattered in the first place.”
The decision to shoot at the other driver “was just a lapse of judgment,” Long said. “That’s not who I am. I sought counseling about it. I prayed about it. It’s changed my life. It’s haunted me a whole lot.”
Long’s family and friends, who filled at least three rows in the Orange County Superior Courtroom, yelled as deputies took him away to begin serving his sentence: “We love you! We’ll come to see you!” Several women cried loudly as court officials waited for them to exit the room.
Baddour warned them against outbursts in court before moving to the next case.