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Is Kmart responsible for man’s suicide?

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The Kmart Corp. is wholly responsible for the 1996 suicide of a schizophrenic Park City man and should be held accountable for selling the shotgun used to end his life, an attorney for the man's parents said Wednesday.

James McKenna addressed jurors in the opening day of Philip and Sandra Eslinger's wrongful-death suit again Kmart.

"This case comes down to corporate greed and irresponsibility in the sale of firearms," McKenna said. "This is not going to be a case about gun control."

On May 22, 1996, Ryan Tait Eslinger, 19, purchased a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun from a Park City Kmart store. The next day he used the gun to end his life.

The sale was illegal in numerous ways, McKenna said, because the passport Ryan used for identification did not include his current address and because it was made by a 17-year-old employee.

Ryan's death came shortly after he was released from the hospital for a previous suicide attempt. Cuts on his throat were visible, McKenna said, as were scars on his wrists from prior bouts of self-mutilation. Also, he said, Ryan was heavily sedated at the time of the purchase.

These visible clues, along with the shotgun purchase in May — months from the opening of hunting season — and the purchase of expensive shotgun shells not normally used in target shooting should have caused the Kmart employee some pause before making the sale, McKenna said.

"That should have been raising flags. Buzzers, bells, whistles should have been going off," he said.

In the estimated five-day trial before U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart, McKenna will call the young man who sold the shotgun, the Park City store manager and the security manager, and corporate executives from Kmart's headquarters in Troy, Mich.

He also plans to show jurors a five-minute Kmart firearms training video, hosted by comedian Tim Allen. The video is inadequate training, he said, for a responsibility as large as selling weapons and ammunition.

"They treated firearms like they were selling Barbie Dolls, yo-yos and Hula-Hoops," McKenna said.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com