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Woman's death by stray bullet authorities say Texas neighbor fired called 'senseless crime'

HOUSTON (AP) — The death of a woman, who authorities say was sleeping in her suburban Houston apartment when she was killed by a stray bullet fired by a neighbor shooting at people breaking into vehicles, was called a “senseless crime” by her family Thursday.

Authorities said Bethany Mefford’s boyfriend found her unresponsive in their bed at around 6 a.m. Wednesday. Investigators allege that Mefford, 29, had been shot in the head by a bullet that had been fired hours earlier by Darius Lewis. He lived in a nearby building in the same apartment complex in the Houston suburb of Humble, said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

“It is a horrible thing to have happened to someone that’s laying in their bed, not causing anybody any problems because Bethany never would," said Lana Higinbotham, Mefford’s aunt. “And to just be taken in your sleep, taken away from your family that loves you more than life, it’s a senseless crime.”

At around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Lewis saw several people breaking into various vehicles at the complex and fired his gun at them, Gonzalez said.

Lewis told officers he fired once into the ground to get the car thieves away from his vehicle. When they “were not moving fast enough for him,” he fired more times into the ground, according to a probable cause affidavit read at a court hearing early Thursday morning.

Prosecutors allege Lewis also fired across a parking lot at the complex and that the bullet went through the wall of Mefford’s apartment, killing her. Lewis has been charged with manslaughter.

Court records did not list an attorney for Lewis, 28, who could speak on his behalf. He was set to have another court appearance Friday.

Higinbotham said Mefford was a mother of three young boys who was originally from southwestern Pennsylvania and had moved to the Houston area several years ago. She had come with her mother and stepfather, who had both received job transfers to Texas, and had just recently been hired by the same oil drilling company where her mother worked.

“It was a great opportunity for them," Higinbotham said about the family moving to Texas. “They took it with open arms. As for now it’s been wonderful, until this.”

Gonzalez said Mefford’s death was tragic.

“It’s a heartbreaking situation," Gonzalez said. “We’ve seen situations where people have fired indiscriminately or just fired at others.”

In February 2022, a 9-year-old Houston girl died after she was shot by a man who had opened fire when he was robbed at an ATM. A grand jury later declined to indict the man. Last month, a Houston man was charged with murder after authorities accused him of fatally shooting a man who had posed as a parking attendant and scammed him out of $40.

The use and role of guns in Texas has been under scrutiny recently amid changes in state law and two recent mass shootings in which 13 people were killed.

In 2021, Texas lawmakers approved legislation allowing people to carry handguns without a license, as well as the background check and training that had gone with it.

Higinbotham said she believes that people “have their right to bear arms” but that her niece’s death has highlighted the need for people to be more responsible with their guns.

“Everybody that I know is very self-conscious and very careful with their weapons," she said. “I live in Pennsylvania, which is a far cry from Texas. Like it just seems that down there they’re a little less caring as to where they’re pointing or where they’re not even aiming and then just pulling the trigger.”

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70