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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > December 2004

AN UNINTENDED TARGET

Survivor hopes her case reminds hunters to be careful

By JENNIFER GISH

Daily Record/Sunday News
Sunday, December 5, 2004

Jason Plotkin - YDR

Sean Erik Wolfe looks over the shoulder of his mother, Kristen, as she shows photos from five years ago, when she was hit in the head by a hunter’s errant bullet. She was pregnant with Sean Erik at the time.

Five-year-old Sean Erik Wolfe had never seen the pictures of his mother with her head shaved and a long scar running along her skull where surgeons went in to remove a blood clot.

He was in her belly then, she told him. Kristen Wolfe was five months pregnant with Sean Erik on June 26, 1999, when she was shot in the head by a groundhog hunter while riding along a rural road in Manheim Township.

The Glenville woman and a friend were returning from a trip to the store at about 4 p.m. when Wolfe heard a cracking noise and saw a hole in the passenger side of the windshield, right in front of where she was sitting.

Then she felt warm and realized there was blood running down the left side of her head.

Within an hour, doctors at a shock-trauma unit at a Maryland hospital were operating on her.

She was one of 83 people in Pennsylvania injured that year in hunting-related shootings.

“Mom, was it a rifle that shot you?” Sean Erik asked last week as the 29-year-old Wolfe pulled out a collection of photos and newspaper articles she had saved about the incident.

The hunter was found guilty of firing too close to the road and received $1,200 in fines and 18 months on probation. He was forbidden from possessing a weapon during that 18 months.

“I never talked to the hunter,” said Wolfe, a homemaker, student and mother of three boys. “You feel bad for them because you know they didn’t intentionally try to do that, but at the same time you’re mad because you think he could have killed me, things could have been a lot worse.”

 

 

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Kristen Wolfe of Glenville saved photos taken after doctors operated on a blood clot in her head that was the result of being accidentally shot by a hunter.

Recent news of hunting-related shootings has triggered memories of the incident for Wolfe, who ever since the shooting has been nervous when driving during hunting season.

On Monday afternoon, a hunter shooting at a deer across a Winterstown road hit a woman driving back to her North Hopewell Township home in the thigh.

The day before, a 16-year-old boy was on the first floor of his Stewartstown home showing two others his Marlin 30-30 hunting rifle when he inadvertently shot a 35-year-old man who was in bed on the second floor. The man was wounded in the leg.

And on Tuesday, a pregnant woman in the Allentown area was shot in the head and critically injured, apparently struck by a stray bullet from a hunter as she was leaving her driveway.

Since January, there have been 50 hunting-related shootings in Pennsylvania, said Jerry Feaser, spokesman for the state Game Commission.

“These types of incidents are very rare,” he said. “However, each and every incident is unfortunate, and if you look at it, in most cases, it’s preventable.”

Hunting-related shootings drop

State game laws outline the buffer zones for hunters. Most are just common sense, Feaser said. Hunters are not permitted to shoot across public roads when a vehicle could pass through the line of fire. It’s also illegal to shoot, trap or pursue game within a 150-yard area around homes, camps, farm buildings, businesses, schools or day-cares. Hunting on hospital, institution or cemetery grounds is illegal.

Hunters violating the law face misdemeanor charges and related penalties. The Game Commission can revoke hunting privileges for anywhere from two to 15 years.

But game officials say preventative measures are what have led hunters to be more careful in the woods, rather than fear of fines or license suspensions.

Feaser said hunting-related shootings have dropped 80 percent since the state began offering hunter-safety courses in 1959.

The number fell even further after the state mandated hunter-safety training for all first-time hunters in 1982 and required hunters to wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange in 1988.

Last year, 57 people statewide were injured or killed in hunting-related shootings. That’s down from 85 incidents 10 years before.

But Wolfe still gets nervous when she hears gunfire. She spent three days in the hospital recovering from her injuries. Wolfe didn’t incur any long-term physical damage, but she’s thought about what would have happened if her head had been turned just a bit.

She doesn’t hold any anger toward the hunter who shot her.

Still, when she leaves to attend college classes at night, her oldest son, Austin, who was 5 at the time of the shooting, gives her a hug. He’s afraid of dangers he wouldn’t have otherwise known existed.

“Who thought in the middle of the day you would go to the store and get shot in the head?” Wolfe said. “You know it’s an accident, but, still, it’s careless.”

For instructor, a personal tale

Last week, Lloyd Wilhelm was called back from a hunting trip when he learned his wife, Janet, had been shot by a hunter as she was driving home along Swamp Road in Winterstown. The bullet pierced the driver’s side door and hit her in the thigh and sending her to the hospital, where she arrived in serious condition.

The hunter is expected to face a misdemeanor charge of causing serious bodily injury by shooting and four summary offenses — shooting within 150 yards of an occupied building or dwelling; shooting across a road; damaging property by shooting; and causing bodily injury by shooting, according to the game commission.

Causing serious bodily injury is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 to $5,000 fine and revocation of hunting and trapping privileges for five to 10 years, Feaser said.

Ironically, Wilhelm has also taught the state’s hunter-safety course for the last 36 years. When he teaches the classes again next July, he said, he’ll stress even further the importance of being careful.

“Definitely make sure of your target, what’s around it, and what’s beyond it. And be aware of where you are hunting — that you’re not hunting in a safety-zone area,” Wilhelm said.

He said he understands the adrenaline rush that sometimes comes with the sport. “You’ve got to be able to control your thoughts . . . You can’t call it back.”

Typically, Wilhelm invites a man who was wounded while groundhog hunting into his class as a guest speaker. Now, he said, he’ll have a more personal cautionary tale to share.

Still, Wilhelm said he hates to see hunters get a bad rap because of the careless actions of a few. He said he feels safer in the woods during hunting season than he did in the hospital parking lot, where he almost got into a fender-bender while visiting his wife last week.

“The majority of hunters out there are really safety-minded and ethical, and it’s one of the safest sports that you can get into,” he said.

Hidden scar

Wolfe’s dark hair has long since covered her scar. And you can only see the small mark under her eye, the one left when a fragment of the bullet grazed the apple of her left cheek, when she smiles.

Sean Erik, who experienced no ill effects from the shooting as he was in his mother’s womb, keeps her busy as he chases after the family’s new puppy.

Wolfe hopes what happened to her might serve as a reminder to hunters to be careful.

Just like Sean Erik provides a little reminder to her about how fortunate she was to have survived the shooting five years ago.

Reach Jennifer Gish at 771-2090 or jgish@ydr.com .

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