SBI, medical examiner submit findings in Houck case

Dylan Lightfoot Staff Writer

August 21, 2013

The State Bureau of Investigation has submitted its completed investigation of the Mark Houck shooting to the Wilkes County District Attorney’s Office the N.C. Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday.

Houck’s autopsy report was submitted to the DA by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology last month, according to Susan Shell of the DA’s office.

Walter Mark Houck, the Laurel Springs man killed in an alleged armed confrontation with local law enforcement in November 2012, died of “multiple gunshot wounds of the chest, abdomen and extremities,” according to the autopsy.

The autopsy found Houck had a blood alcohol content of 0.2 percent at time of death.

Shell said additional testing is needed to determine Houck’s condition at the time of the shooting before the DA determines what, if any, charges may be filed against the officers involved in the shooting.

“They didn’t do a toxicology screen for drugs,” Shell said, explaining that drug screening is not required in autopsies where the cause of death is obvious.

The DA has requested a drug screening from the Medical Examiner’s Office in Chapel Hill, she said.

“We are waiting. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer,” she said.

Shortly after 11 p.m. Nov. 19, 2012, Three Ashe County Sheriff’s deputies and one West Jefferson Police officer responding to a shots fired call on Gaither Poe Road found Houck at the scene armed with a high-powered rifle, according to an ACSO press release.

The officers identified themselves and ordered Houck to drop the rifle, according to the press release. Houck then allegedly pointed the rifle at the officers, who opened fire and killed him.

Houck, 47, was shot nine times, according to the autopsy.

At 0.2 percent blood alcohol content, Houck could have experienced significant impairment of judgment, speech, attention, reaction time and balance, according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Houck was found to have “moderate steatohepatitis” — known as fatty liver disease — and cirrhosis of the liver, both symptoms of chronic alcoholism.

He also suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease causing severe vision impairment and blindness, according to the autopsy.

Following the shooting, the officers were placed on paid administrative leave for approximately one month while the SBI completed its investigation of the shooting, according to Sheriff James Williams.

All officers involved are now back on active duty.