Detectives: Hughson man who died in shootout acted in self-defense

pguerra@modbee.comApril 12, 2013 

    alternate text Patty Guerra
    Title: Breaking news editor
    Coverage areas: Breaking news, business
    Bio: Patty Guerra has been an editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 13 years. She has a journalism degree from Fresno State and previously worked at the Turlock Journal and Merced Sun-Star.
    Recent stories written by Patty
    On Twitter: @pattyguerra

— A Hughson man killed in a shootout with a former neighbor last year acted in self-defense, a Stanislaus County Sheriff's investigation concluded.

Nick Kounias, 45, and John Szuggar, 52, both died in the July 25 incident on Seventh Street in Stanislaus County's smallest town.

Detective Darwin Hatfield said investigators concluded that Kounias acted in self-defense when he shot Szuggar. Both men sustained several gunshot wounds. Authorities recovered .40-caliber guns from each man, a Glock from Kounias, and a Smith and Wesson from Szuggar.

That day, authorities first responded to a call regarding an armed suicidal man on Eaton Road east of Oakdale. Deputies found Szuggar in his Dodge pickup and tried to pull him over, but he led them on a slow-speed chase to Hughson, investigators said at the time. He never communicated with deputies, who were handling the matter as a welfare check. Szuggar parked his truck in Kounias' driveway and went inside the home. Hatfield said Szuggar was looking for Kounias.

A SWAT team responded to the scene, closing off several blocks in the neighborhood. A gunshot rang out and a woman, identified by neighbors as Kounias' girlfriend, ran from the house.

Several more gunshots followed; the SWAT team entered the home to find the bodies of both men.

Hatfield said detectives learned that Szuggar had a fight with his wife, Glenda, in Oakdale just before the incident. It's not clear why he then targeted Kounias, Hatfield said, adding that investigators could not determine a tie other than a previous history of bad blood between the two men.

A woman who answered the telephone at Glenda Szuggar's home Friday said the family had no comment. Kounias' family could not be reached.

Hatfield said toxicology tests showed Szuggar was under the influence of drugs and alcohol; he took medication and drank some beer that day.

The two men, who had lived next door to each other, had clashed repeatedly over the years. Hatfield said authorities had been called to both homes in the past — Szuggar complained about Kounias riding a dirt bike in his field and kicking up dirt, and Kounias cited problems with loud parties at Szuggar's house.

Other neighbors said that Kounias and Szuggar argued over other seemingly minor issues, such as trespassing across property lines or dumping leaves in the wrong place.

A colleague of Kounias' at Seneca Foods told The Bee in July that Kounias had a "good heart." Michael Golightly said the two rode motorcycles together occasionally. "He was always helping anyone."

Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.

Video from scene in 2012

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