Former Hilton Head resident, Army vet found not guilty in road rage shooting

newsroom@islandpacket.comMay 15, 2014 

A jury has found Army veteran and former Hilton Head Island resident Brandon Daniel Thomas not guilty in the fatal shooting of another motorist in a Pennsylvania parking lot after a road-rage dispute.

Washington County prosecutors contended the 32-year-old Thomas got out of his vehicle and purposely shot 55-year-old Vaughn Simonelli, of Chartiers Township, on Oct. 18, 2012.

The defense said Thomas suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and fired in self-defense only after he was blocked in his parking space by Simonelli's vehicle.

A jury on Wednesday found Thomas not guilty of murder and manslaughter counts. They did convict him on drug charges.

Some witnesses testified that Thomas, of Upper St. Clair, got out of his vehicle and shot Simonelli, while others supported Thomas' version that he shot from inside the vehicle as Simonelli threw a punch.

Thomas enlisted in the U.S. Army after Sept. 11, 2001, and spent nearly a decade in service. He spent an extended tour in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

Both Thomas and his wife, BethAnne Thomas, graduated from Hilton Head High School.

Thomas's mother, Leah Vaughan, owned the Spartina Grill on Hilton Head before moving to Florida. Thomas worked at the restaurant before joining the Army.

A Facebook page set up in support of Thomas said he received an honorable discharge in 2010, and received two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts and other commendations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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