Family dispute over piece of property led to fatal shootings

By Calvin Palmer

An ongoing family dispute over a piece of property in rural central Virginia was the reason for three people being shot and killed yesterday and four others wounded, authorities disclosed today.

The dispute over a 1.5-acre lot in Louisa had seen sheriff’s deputies called to the property on numerous occasions in the past, Louisa sheriff’s Maj Donnie Lowe said.

Deputies were called out at 2:00 p.m. yesterday and the dispute was resolved but they were called out again at 4:52 p.m. after Charles P. Steadman Sponaugle, 52, opened fire on family members with a .22-caliber semi-automatic target pistol.

Sponaugle shot and killed his son, Charles P. Steadman, 29, and nephew Mark A. Cooper Jr., 23. Also shot were his sister, Kitty L. Cooper, 41; brother-in-law Mark A. Cooper Sr., 45; and nephews Gerald A. Steadman Jr., 26, and Jason C. Steadman, 27.

Two sheriff’s deputies arrived at the home after a 911 call reported shots being fired, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

“There was an active shooter situation,” Geller said. “The shootings were ongoing as the deputies arrived.”

Sponaugle shot at officers, and unleashed his pit bull at a deputy who had brought a police dog, Geller said. One or both deputies returned fire, fatally wounding the suspect.  

Jason Steadman was flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center, in Charlottesville, with life-threatening injuries. Gerald Steadman was held overnight for observation; Kitty and Mark Cooper Sr. were treated and discharged.

Court documents show that the property was assessed at $52,100. Sponaugle’s mother, Clara Sponaugle, deeded it to him and five others, including Kitty Cooper, in July 2002.

Lowe said the sheriff’s department had responded to 23 calls at the address since 2001, but that “all of them were minor in nature” and did not involve violence.

Family members said there had been quarrels for years over the estate and over alleged building-code-enforcement problems associated with the living arrangements of family members on the 1.5-acre property.

[Based on reports by the Associated Press and Richmond Times-Dispatch.]

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