Hunter’s schooting death under investigation

jmonk@thestate.comNovember 4, 2013 

  • By the numbers

    Hunting-related injuries and deaths in South Carolina fall into two main categories: tree stand and firearms-related incidents.

    Here are statistics for recent years including the current year:

    • Year-to-date: 10 incidents – Three tree stand falls and seven firearms incidents. Two of the gun incidents – including Friday’s – were fatalities.

    •  2012: 41 incidents – 22 firearms-related and 19 tree stand. One firearms incident resulted in death, as did one tree stand.

    •  2011: 25 incidents – 16 firearms-related and nine tree stand. One person died as a result of a gunshot; four died in tree stand incidents.

    Source: SC DNR

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources will investigate Friday’s shooting death of a deer hunter in Abbeville County by another hunter, to see whether the hunter fired without being able to see his target clearly.

“There is a possibility of charges being brought,” DNR’s Capt. Robert McCullough said Monday. “We do not think it was deliberate, but there could be negligence.”

Still, it is rare for charges to be brought in cases in which one hunter shoots another, said DNR hunter education coordinator Billy Downer.

Whether to bring charges is up to the local solicitor, and a prosecutor has to show there was a criminal intent to wound or kill another hunter, Downer said.

Most of the shooting incidents he deals with are not prosecuted, Downer said.

Although the hunter was apparently within the one-hour time frame of legally shooting after sunset, whether he clearly could see the target will be one focus of the investigation, McCullough said.

Initial reports said the hunter, who has not been identified, fired the fatal shot at about 7 p.m. Friday. Sunset that day was around 6:30 p.m.

Abbeville County coroner Robbie Ashley has ruled Todd’s death accidental.

“It all comes down to being able to identify your target clearly,” McCullough said.

The shooter was in a tree stand in the Sumter National Forest when he fired a single shot from his .300-caliber hunting rifle and struck Bradford Todd, 60, of Florence County, at a distance of about 28 yards, McCullough said.

Todd was struck in the pelvic region and lived for some time after he was hit, McCullough said.

One rare, but well-publicized case in recent years in which a jury found a man guilty of shooting and killing another hunter involved the 2008 shooting death of Tuona Xiong in a Chester County forest.

After a three-day trial, the jury found Michael Lee Hawkins guilty of negligent use of a gun while hunting resulting in death.

At the 2012 trial, Hawkins testified he did not intend to kill Xiong and believed he was shooting at a deer. The incident was prosecuted only after Xiong’s family hired Columbia lawyer Dennis Bolt, who in turn hired an independent pathologist to examine Xiong’s death and used the evidence to convince prosecutor Doug Barfield to take the case to trial. The case was complicated because the Chester County coroner did not order an autopsy.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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