Lee County Commissioner hopes Del Ranch bar will close after escalating violence

Alabama News

LEE COUNTY, Ala (WRBL ) – The family of a man who remains on a ventilator after being shot during a fight at a Lee County bar the morning after Christmas tells News 3 they are grateful to the hospital workers who saved their loved one’s life. Meanwhile, as investigators continue their search for the gunman there is growing momentum to either shut the bar down or take additional actions to stem increasing acts of violence at the establishment.

Gunshot victim Josh O’Neal Courtesy: O’Neal Family

Investigators say the shooting happened around 3:30 Saturday morning when a fight sparked gunshots inside the Del Ranch bar just outside the city limits of Smiths Station along Lee Road 430. Victim, Josh O’Neal was struck in his chest, a bullet piercing his lung. O’Neal’s friend suffered a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to his shoulder.

Sheriff Jay Jones reports investigators have identified a possible shooter, however as of late Monday afternoon, an arrest has not been made. We do know there is video footage of the shooting.

“Investigators are reviewing video footage handed over to us by the establishment, and investigators are currently out working this case and hope to have more info as the day goes on,” said Sheriff Jay Jones.

Sheriff Jones says violence associated with the Del Ranch bar is an issue he’s brought to the District Attorney even before this latest shooting.

“This is yet another event in a series of events that have occurred of criminal acts that have occurred at this establishment over a period of time,” said Jones.

Commissioner Gary Long told News 3 he has significant concerns as violent acts seem to be escalating at the bar. Long says citizens have been reaching out to him complaining about the establishment for years.

“This has been a thorn in my side just about the entire time I have been on the commission. I will just tell you straight up, I want to see the place closed,” said Commissioner Long.

Commissioner Long and Sheriff Jones promise action to concerned citizens. They plan to address the public safety issues at the next Lee County Commission in January.

“Taking additional enforcement actions at this establishment in the future and in the coming weeks that hopefully address some of these concerns. We are very concerned about the public’s safety, especially when you involve numerous assaults and gunfire at a particular place. I think the threat to the community is obvious,” said Sheriff Jones.

Commissioner Long says one possibility is asking Alabama Beverage Control to pull the bar’s liquor license. News 3 did reach out to the Del Ranch via Facebook Messenger. So far, we have not heard back from them.

Meanwhile, as of Monday morning, O’Neal remains on a ventilator in the ER at Piedmont Columbus Regional. The ICU is full due to COVID-19 patients and several other gunshot victims from numerous shootings over the Chattahoochee Valley during Christmas weekend. O’Neal’s family tells News 3 they are optimistic for a full recovery and shared this statement.

“At this time, Josh is in stable condition, and the doctors are optimistic of a full recovery. He was shot in the chest, but we are hopeful they will not have to operate on his lung, and it will heal on its own. He is a fighter, and we know that God will pull him through this. We appreciate all the prayers from everyone and want to thank the Healthcare and Frontline workers who have worked diligently to save Josh’s life. Also, we want to thank those on the scene who stepped in to provide care for him until the paramedics arrived. We know the investigators are working to bring those responsible to justice, and we are very grateful to them as well. Keep fighting Josh,” shared the O’Neal family.

News 3 will keep you updated on this developing story and let you know if and when investigators make an arrest in the weekend shooting and Josh O’Neal’s recovery.

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