Attorney: Driveway murder suspect assumed he was in danger

LILBURN -- When Lilburn police officers arrived at 537 Hillcrest Road Saturday, at 10:12 p.m., this is what they found.

A red Mitsubishi 3000GT at the end of the driveway, facing east, the driver's side door open. Rodrigo Abad Diaz, 22, slumped over in the driver's seat, his head and face covered in blood; alive but unresponsive.

Diaz's girlfriend -- her own jeans, arms and hands soaked in blood -- frantically screaming that he had been shot and trying to wake him up.

Two teens, brothers and fellow passengers, standing behind the car.

Phillip Walker Sailors, the home's 69-year-old resident, stood outside also. He "made a spontaneous utterance that he shot the driver," one officer noted.

At 6:08 a.m. Sunday, Diaz was pronounced dead at Gwinnett Medical Center -- the bullet from Sailors' six-shot, .22-caliber Ruger revolver had entered the left side of his head and fragmented, "causing severe damage to the brain and bones in the skull."

By 10:39 a.m., Sailors was formally charged with malice murder. By 12:22 p.m., he was booked into the Gwinnett County Detention Center.

Those in the car with Diaz, a Duluth resident, assert that they followed incorrect directions into the wrong driveway, and were innocently turning around. Another witness reportedly heard Sailors yelling about "why was someone trying to get inside (his) house," and the suspect's lawyer said his defendant was merely protecting himself.

Aside from a police report that better outlined the aftermath (not the event) and a short statement, the police are staying mum.

"At this point we have established probable cause to charge Mr. Sailors and when the investigation is complete, we will turn over the case file to the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office for processing," Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley said. "To preserve the integrity of the case, I will not be releasing further information concerning this incident."

According to reports and warrants, Diaz and his Mitsubishi were in fact pulling away from Sailors' property when he was killed. The report said the quartet in the vehicle was on its way to go skating.

Michael Puglise, Sailors' attorney, called the incident a "tragic, tragic event" and said that background information of Diaz and his friends "wasn't available to Mr. Sailors."

"You have to look at the way Mr. Sailors was looking at it," Puglise said, maintaining his client's innocence. "You're dealing with an elderly gentleman who has his elderly wife inside the home. And Lilburn isn't the same quiet, quaint town it once was ... We're not implicating the four people in the car as bad people. But you've got to look at it with what Mr. Sailors perceived in that split second."

The attorney said Sailors is a Vietnam veteran and has served as a Christian lay minister in Latin America, and that -- with a wall down the street adorned with gang graffiti and the recent robbery of his mother-in-law's home next door -- he mistakenly assumed he was in danger.

"We live in a state of fear, and fear dictates this, and this is awful," Puglise said. "This is the tragedy we have to deal with afterward."

Sailors is being held without bond.


R 2 years, 8 months ago

Sadly when harm is seconds away, the POLICE are a mere minutes away...

They aren't always the answer.

That stated for the record, this is indeed an extremely unusual case if the police have a record of the break-in next store, it could be misinterpreted as a repeat of that intrusion. VERY sad indeed.


news2me 2 years, 8 months ago

This old guy is probably senile/insane

I seriously doubt that he should be labeled as such without knowing alll the facts. With all the hysteria about guns and the elderly being sitting target he most likely was just trying to protect his home. He only fired two shots according to all reports so far - one was deadly. Many elderly are beat to death because they are weak and defenseless. This man was not. The outcome could have been totally different but this is what we have.

Unfortunately this is the new normal. The media plays a huge part of the problem. Our country is changing. Things will only get worse. Progresssive.


B3 2 years, 8 months ago

My question is that the police were there at 10:15 pm. The kids were "going" to the ice skating rink but the last public skate time at all the ice rinks were eight to ten. Why were they "going ice skating" after the last session was already over? Just saying that the timing doesn't make sense. What a sad story.


testep 2 years, 8 months ago

Never said ice skating, just skating -- presumably at Skate Along USA, which is less than two miles away and open until midnight on Saturdays


NewsReader 2 years, 8 months ago

One of the first lessons you learn in firearm safety is muzzle control. If you have not identified and know exactly what you are shooting at, you don't even point the end of the barrel in that direction, let alone fire one. If the story is accurate, this man should go to jail. But let's make one thing clear. The gun was an inanimate object . It didn't shoot by itself. The person holding the gun is solely responsible.


SurelyNot 2 years, 8 months ago

We can never understand what happened here, but it is a sad, sad example of the fear we have. I wonder if our instant information society is partly responsible. We are kind of damed if we do and damned if we don't. In our neighborhood, we get an email if something "looks funny". While that is exactly what our police recommend, it makes us suspicious of everyone. Especially if they don't look like us. Fear of the unknown. But if we continue to be so inundated with all the bad, we will contine to fear the "others". And so the killing, needless killing, goes on. And so does the distrust and so does the hate.


Veryconcernedcitizen 2 years, 8 months ago

Self-defense? He was in fear for his safety? Seriously? He left the security of his home, went outside, and unloaded his pistol into a car that was pulling away from his house. Taking all those facts in account, would a reasonable person think they were in danger? I'm sorry, but this is not self-defense. I guess the next time the neighborhood kids come to my door selling stuff for school I can unload my 9mm on them? Again, he was inside his locked house and the other guys were in a car that was moving away from his house. Where is the danger?


gwinnettresident1 2 years, 8 months ago

You make such foolish statements. Unloaded his gun..2 out of 6 hardly seems like he unloaded it maybe he shot one third of it. Left the security of his home..If i were that age and his wife is probally the same i would rather take it outside and let her stay inside in safety...If something did happen then my wife might be safe. 2 shots with a 22 and one killed a man...pure accident. try shooting a 22 at dark with any accuracy. They claim to be moving away from the house...The neighbor said the same car was in her drive a week or little more on the news last night....If a kid comes to your house at 1030 at night selling girl scout cookies would u be an little concerned...maybe not shoot her but.


news2me 2 years, 8 months ago

There is a plethora of recent new stories about the elderly being killed in the safety of their own home. I will not provide links for someone who thinks they have all the answers. You Google / search the following key words:

Elderly Beat Death Home

If you don't care about this elderly couple, then search for other news stories about the inconsistencies of the other 2 people in the car with the deceased. Their versions are literally ALL over the place.

This man made a deadly decision - he IS going to pay for it. I am assuming that you would not post or be outraged if the headlines were reserved? You would prefer this couple be attacked or dead? Would it make you feel better if this man were injured in some way? Ban guns for the law abiding citizens and let the criminals just take over? Please --- share your wisdom with the rest of us! SMH yet again


mtb1ker2002 2 years, 8 months ago

People...we STILL do not have ALL the facts. Why must you rush to judgment?


wenmelt 2 years, 8 months ago

Well if the facts are true, then he deserves to go to jail. You dont shoot at someone who is pulling away from your house if they have not come to your door and imposed a threat to you or your home, that is just common sense. Calling this self defense is ridiculous. This is sad but i hope justice is served.


commonsensewarrior 2 years, 8 months ago

We have multiple victims here: Unfortunately, we have a dead young man. We also have a 69 year old who has never been convicted of anything, that claims he was protecting his house. The young man's friends side of the story. Their GPS system got them lost and they were turning around in this man's driveway. They told a local news channel they were looking for a friends house. The police report says they were going skating. The only skating rink nearby closes at midnight. This is when this took place. So what is the real story? The older gentleman was not standing outside when they pulled into his driveway. So he noticed them from inside the house. How long were they in the driveway before he came out initially. Did he say anything to them before he went back in the house for his gun? How long did it take for him to get his gun? How long does it take to turn around in the driveway? I could see them sitting in the driveway looking up directions before they turned around. Unfortunately, I could see how them sitting there for a period of time would be unnerving to this 69 year old. Especially after a break in at his mother in laws next door recently. This is why I feel there are multiple victims here.


LilburnLady 2 years, 8 months ago

I agree, we don't know the whole story here. The Gwinnett County Daily Post did say that the police arrived at the scene a little after 10:00 pm, and I would trust their accuracy a LOT MORE than any other newspaper. News outlets are notorious for not verifying the facts and reporting errors in their rush to get the story out. The police department has not released any details about the chain of events that led up to the shooting, so any discussion right now is pure speculation on our part. A lot of people are making judgments on both the deceased and the homeowner based on very, very little information about what actually happened and what the real intent of the deceased was on that night.


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