An early-morning drive-by shooting Wednesday outside a Winona bar left one man dead, a second injured, and a lone suspected shooter in custody facing murder charges.
EB’s Corner, on the 700 block of West Fifth Street, re-opened for business Wednesday to customers shaken by the incident shortly after 1 a.m., where 49-year-old Winona resident Ricky Darnell Waiters drove up to the bar around closing time, spoke to a group of people gathered outside, left for a short time, and then returned to fire a gun into the group, according to Winona police.
Robert Charles Johnson, 53, of Winona, was shot in the torso and pronounced dead shortly after being rushed by ambulance to Winona Health. A second man, Sean Patrick O’Brien, 27, also from Winona, was shot in the leg and in stable condition Wednesday.
The motives for Wednesday’s shooting weren’t clear. It wasn’t known Wednesday whether either of the men knew Waiters, or had any involvement with him that night.
Friends and a listing for a GoFundMe account set up for O’Brien and his medical expenses, which had drawn more than $800 in donations by Wednesday evening, said he was simply at his favorite bar, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Further details are expected to emerge after Waiters makes his first appearance in Winona County District Court, where he will face presumptive charges of second-degree murder and second-degree assault.
Johnson was remembered Wednesday by many for his music. He was frequently seen playing bluegrass at one local establishment or another — often with his band, Beet Root Stew, but also with any group that needed someone who could carry a tune.
Tanner Brethorst, who plays in another local bluegrass band, the Wide Awakes, said he often hung out and played music with Johnson after they met around 2007.
“He gave me my first banjo, just because I was interested in playing it,” he recalled.
Parker Forsell, who directs the Mid West Music Fest in Winona, met Johnson several years ago, and immediately struck up a conversation.
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“He was a kind-hearted soul and was always smiling. He could be a bit of a rascal at times — not in a mean way, but when he was drinking,” he said.
Walters fled the scene after shooting, according to police, but was not on the run for long. Police, working off witness descriptions, soon discovered the vehicle Waiters fled in parked outside a downtown apartment on the 100 block of West Third Street. The Emergency Response Team and other responders surrounded the area and led neighboring residents out of their apartments as a precaution before making contact. Waiters was arrested without incident shortly before 7 a.m.
Winona police, with assistance from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, continued to investigate Wednesday, searching and analyzing areas including the bar’s parking lot and along nearby Ewing Street, where Waiters was suspected of parking briefly before approaching the bar, as well as the downtown apartment and area where Waiters was arrested.
Waiters has no criminal record in Minnesota, outside of a petty misdemeanor seatbelt violation in 2013 in Olmsted County, according to court records.
The presumptive second-degree murder charge is the highest that can be charged by a prosecutor’s office; Minnesota law requires a grand jury to decide whether a first-degree charge is warranted.
Waiters’ case, if charged as expected, would become the third active homicide case in Winona County.
Kyle Benjamin Allers, accused of killing in May a Lewiston woman with whom he had an ongoing relationship, remains in custody facing second-degree murder charges. His next hearing is scheduled for September.
Reginald Alexander Burnett pleaded guilty earlier this month to aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree assault, for his role in the killing of a Winona man in a west-end apartment in October 2015; he is expected to be sentenced this fall.
The accused shooter in that case, Lonnie Lavonte Keymone Hudson, is in custody awaiting trial, facing charges of first- and second-degree murder, aggravated robbery, three counts of second-degree assault, and illegal possession of a firearm.