There are indications the fatal shooting of a Mount Airy woman over the weekend was accidental, but that is subject to further review by authorities.
“We’re still conducting follow-up investigations,” city Police Chief Dale Watson said Monday regarding the death of Darlene Jeanette Combs Tate, 57, for which an autopsy was ordered.
Tate suffered a single gunshot wound to the lower abdomen Saturday night at her home at 338 Austin Drive, according to information from the Mount Airy Police Department. The gun involved was a .22-caliber derringer, Watson said.
A preliminary investigation suggests the shooting was accidental. It occurred while Tate was with family members. Police responded to the incident at 8:12 p.m. Saturday.
The woman was taken by the Surry County EMS to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem in critical condition, and died there later. Bad weather prevented her transport to the area trauma center by AirCare helicopter ambulance, according to Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton.
The preliminary findings indicate that the shooting might have resulted from the gun being dropped to the floor in some manner, and it then discharged. A failure to ensure that the weapon was properly secured appears to be to blame at this point in the investigation, according to the police chief.
“We’re reasonably confident it was an accident — accidental rather than intentional,” he said of the shooting.
However, Watson stressed that further review was needed to make a final determination in the case.
“Right now, we are awaiting the results of the autopsy,” he said Monday, adding that an interview process also must be completed. All the findings then will be reviewed by the Surry County District Attorney’s Office, reflecting a process sometimes undertaken in cases involving fatalities in the city.
The official ruling as to whether Tate’s death was accidental will be made at that point, Watson said — “hopefully by the end of the week.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.