Double-amputee panhandler, driver killed during fight for gun in Detroit

A well-known panhandler and a driver were both fatally shot while fighting over a gun on Detroit's west side Wednesday afternoon. 

The panhandler was Clayton Willis, a veteran.

Drivers who frequent Eight Mile and the northbound Southfield freeway exit ramp are familiar with Willis – a double-amputee in his 60s who was often seen asking for money at the intersection, in his wheelchair.

Clayton Willis in July 2023.

According to preliminary information from Detroit homicide investigators, a driver in a black Charger pulled up with a gun, words were exchanged between the two, and a shot was fired – although it is unclear if that round struck anyone.

The driver and Willis then engaged in a struggle over the gun, resulting in at least five to six shots being fired – striking both of them, police said. The driver was pronounced dead on the scene, while Willis later died from his injuries at the hospital.

Willis was previously shot in July 2023, but survived. A masked man ambushed and shot him while he was panhandling; the bullet grazed his neck.

Willis lost both of his legs to frost bite in 2000, he told FOX 2 in 2023. He also suffered a stroke within the last few years – giving him use of only one hand.

"Why would you mess with a handicapped person that ain't got no legs, you know I can't do nothing," Willis said last year.


Two die in struggle over a gun during fight near Southfield freeway, 8 Mile

Police say that the second victim was rushed to the hospital where he later died. The first victim was declared dead at the scene.

Those who knew Willis will remember him as a grateful man.

"He was very respectful and very grateful for the things that we gave him. I see him all the time. This is my route," said Ortagus Jackson. "He was a good guy."

Last summer, Detroit police told FOX 2 Willis was one of four panhandlers between May and July 2023 that had been shot at or threatened with violence in the same area.

Police at the time suspected it was a turf war, but the suspect who shot Willis last year was not a panhandler. The case went unsolved.

"Most panhandlers (are not aggressive)," Jackson said. "All they want to do is eat, sleep, and be somewhere warm."

Police are still looking for witnesses. Anyone with information is asked to come forward.