LEALMAN (FOX 13) - A Pinellas County man appeared in court Friday charged in, what Sheriff Bob Gualtieri called one of the worst cases of domestic violence he's seen.
Christopher Keys is accused of trying to kill his ex-girlfriend while she and their 11-month-old daughter were in a car, heading to drop the child off at daycare.
The car was stopped at the intersection of 31st Street N and 58th Avenue N in Lealman Monday when deputies said Keys fired from about 35 yards away. The bullet went through the front windshield, hitting the woman in the head.
"The bullet itself went down the side of her head, went into the car headrest sitting behind her seat and we found the bullet in the back hatch of the car," Gualtieri said during a news conference.
The sheriff said the bullet was a specialized "self-defense style" ammunition, filled with projectiles that "sprayed" the victim's face.
The woman survived, but she may never see again, the sheriff said.
"This is a very, very serious case of domestic violence. This woman is extremely lucky she's alive," Gualtieri added.
Some witnesses tried to help until paramedics arrived.
"I heard a gunshot when my boyfriend was getting ready for work and after that I heard a young lady screaming. I ran over there and there was a bullet hole in her head," said Pam Weisner, who lives near the crime scene. "I was scared to death. I was thinking, 'where is this guy at right now?'"
Gualtieri said Keys had taken off in a borrowed Nissan Altima. Deputies tracked him down at a Quality Inn hotel in Clearwater.
"After he shoots her and she's sitting in the middle of the road, blind, blood all over herself, yelling and screaming and yelling for her 1-year-old daughter who's in the back and he just nonchalantly leaves the area," Gualtieri said. "I think it shows he's a pretty sick person who's got a lot of pent-up hostility and vengeance and it shows what he's made of, which isn't much."
The sheriff told reporters Keys had tried to kill this same woman and their child in October, when he cut the brake line in her car. Gualtieri said the woman caught Keys in the act, took a picture on her cell phone and told him to "knock it off" or he'd never see his daughter again. The sheriff said Keys responded, 'it doesn't matter, you'll be dead within a year.'
Deputies said instead of contacting the sheriff's office, the victim called Keys' father who asked her not to call 911 and she agreed.
Gualtieri said detectives didn't know about this until after the shooting.
"There's a good chance that [the shooting] could have been avoided. There's a good chance that she wouldn't spend the rest of her life blind because we might have been in a position to stop this," he said, adding Keys admitted to trying to cut the brakes in October.
Investigators believe that incident was actually the second time Keys cut the brake line in his ex-girlfriend's car, but a neighbor caught him in the act in August.
Keys is facing a series of charges, including three counts of attempted murder stemming from the shooting and brake-tampering in October. He's being held in jail without bond.