A Willits man who gained national recognition as a teen for shutting down the gunmaker responsible for manufacturing a defective pistol that paralyzed him in an accident at the age of 7, has died.
Brandon Maxfield, 29, died Nov. 13 from complications of his paralysis, said Mike Harkins, a friend, family spokesman and author of a book about Maxfield and his legal case against Bryco Arms, a manufacturer of cheap firearms.
Maxfield’s long legal fight against the gunmaker began in 1994 after a babysitter accidentally shot him with a Bryco Arms Model 38 pistol owned by his father.
The family friend was trying to unload the weapon, which required the pistol’s safety to be off. The bullet hit Maxfield in the jaw and shattered his cervical spine, largely paralyzing him from the neck down.
Maxfield, though severely limited by his physical disability, maintained an optimistic outlook and crusader’s spirit, determined to fight for what he believed was right — putting a halt to the manufacturing of guns like the one that maimed him.
“They’ve got to be off the streets,” he said during a 2004 interview with The Press Democrat.
He was so committed that he chose to block the sale of some 20,000 guns that would have generated an estimated $2 million to $3 million to pay off the company’s bankruptcy debts, including the $24 million an Alameda County jury ordered Bryco to pay Maxfield in 2003 after deeming the guns to be defective.
“He said absolutely not,” said his Berkeley-based attorney, Richard Ruggieri. Maxfield was “determined not to put anyone else at risk for his benefit.”
Instead, the guns were sold for parts and to be melted down, Ruggieri said.
Maxfield also attempted to purchase the company from bankruptcy court, with plans to shutter it and melt down all the remaining gun parts.
That effort failed, with a former Bryco employee outbidding him for the business, which later was moved from Southern California to Nevada because it failed California safety tests.
Maxfield collected only a fraction of the award from Bryco because of the bankruptcy and other maneuvers aimed at protecting the assets of the company’s owner, Bruce Jennings, Ruggieri said. Jennings, who had no insurance, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for distributing child pornography.
The Alameda County jury also found liable two other gun distributors, the pawnshop where the gun was sold, Maxfield’s parents, and the family friend who was handling the .380-caliber semi-automatic gun when it accidentally fired.
Altogether, from the nearly $51 million he was awarded, Maxfield recovered about $8 million, which went toward legal and medical expenses and to fund a medical trust for him. Maxfield’s lifetime medical expenses were estimated at $20 million, Ruggieri said.
He was able to move from the family trailer and purchase a home equipped with disability access and to buy a specially equipped van and other medical equipment, including a portable respirator that enhanced his mobility. Before his health deteriorated further, Maxfield was able to travel across the country in his van, Harkins said. He also loved to attend concerts and movies.
Throughout his life, Maxfield cheerfully confronted the challenges that faced him, according to family and friends. He earned straight A’s in high school and enjoyed music and posting on social media. He also was married for a short time, Harkins said.