A West Terre Haute man accused of firing a small handgun at three people Tuesday morning faces four counts of criminal recklessness.

Thomas Albert Barnhart, 64, is being held on $100,000 bail in the Vigo County jail after Judge David Bolk found probable cause for his arrest in Vigo Superior Court 3 on Wednesday.

Detective Clay White of the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department told the judge that a woman, her son and another woman were in an eastbound vehicle on Rio Grande Road when Barnhart allegedly pulled onto Rio Grande behind them and began following the trio. When they turned north onto Gallagher Street and proceeded toward Fontanet, Barnhart followed and tried to run the woman’s vehicle off the road. When the woman’s van became stuck in a ditch near Coal Bluff, White said, Barnhart allegedly got out of his vehicle and walked up to the driver’s side window of the woman’s vehicle armed with a .22-caliber Derringer pistol.

An oncoming witness in another vehicle told police he saw the incident and stopped.

The woman told police that Barnhart fired two shots at her vehicle, one of which struck the windshield. White said the witness confirmed the shooting.

The woman was able to throw her vehicle into reverse and get out of the ditch, White said, and then the three occupants of her vehicle ran to the witness’s vehicle. That driver let the two women and boy into his vehicle and they fled the scene while Barnhart was allegedly trying to reload his two-shot Derringer.

Police later found Barnhart at his home on South Ninth Street in West Terre Haute. They also located his vehicle and impounded it. A search of the vehicle for the Derringer is anticipated after police receive a search warrant.

White said preliminary charges filed were four counts of criminal recklessness — one count for each person endangered in the vehicle, and one count for use of his vehicle to run the other vehicle off the road.

White also stated in court that he found a police report filed in August in which the victim, who was previously involved in a relationship with Barnhart, stated that Barnhart had threatened her and her children with a double-barreled Derringer.

In an interview Wednesday morning with the suspect, White said, Barnhart allegedly stated the incident was a result of road rage and that he only wanted to talk to the alleged victim.

The detective said Barnhart’s criminal history turned up a 1986 conviction in California for carrying a concealed weapon.

Barnhart made a brief statement in court Wednesday.

“I did not discharge this firearm in a reckless manner,” he told Judge Bolk.

Barnhart’s bail was set at $100,000, cash only, and a public defender was appointed to handle his case. Formal charges are to be filed in the case Monday.



Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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