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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > January 30, 2005

Farmer faces misdemeanor charge in fatal shooting

By Kevin Woster, Journal Staff Writer

MARTIN The Martin-area farmer who accidentally shot and killed a goose hunter last December will face a misdemeanor charge when he makes his initial court appearance Feb. 2 in Martin.

Bennett County States Attorney Tim Vander Heide said Friday that he had charged Brad Johnson with negligent endangerment in the Dec. 3 shooting of 39-year-old Jay Torgerson of Custer.

If found guilty of the negligent endangerment charge, a Class 1 misdemeanor, Johnson could face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Vander Heide announced earlier this month that while the shooting was "a tragedy, just horrid," and that Johnson was clearly negligent, it did not fit manslaughter charges under the law. He said Friday that the charge, essentially endangering another person while hunting from a right-of-way, fit the circumstances better than any other charge he could find.

"Quite frankly, I stumbled on this one while I was paging through the code trying to find the best one for this," Vander Heide said.

Johnson couldn't be reached by telephone Friday. Contacted in Arizona, Torgerson's mother, Carol, said she couldn't comment on the case at this time.

Torgerson, an employee of Custer State Park, and hunting partner Ron Tietsort, a conservation officer in the park, were hunting on land owned by Brad Johnson's father when the accident occurred. The state Game, Fish & Parks Department leases the land from the Johnsons for public walk-in hunting.

Brad Johnson fired two rifle shots from a nearby road at what he believed were geese feeding on millet that had been cut but not harvested. He said he fired in the direction of the birds to chase them away from the grain.

In fact, the shapes Johnson saw were decoys, and Torgerson and Tietsort were concealed among them. One of the rifle rounds struck Torgerson in the forehead. He died two days later at Rapid City Regional Hospital.

Johnson said in a previous interview that he was devastated by the accident, was seeing a counselor and taking medication. Friends have called the Journal to say Johnson is a good neighbor who made a tragic mistake.

Some Torgerson friends have questioned whether a misdemeanor fits the gravity of the incident and the loss of a life.

GF&P Secretary Johnson Cooper of Pierre, who has praised Torgerson as a valued employee and a good man, said he understood Vander Heide's dilemma.

"I have a lot of faith in the judicial system, and I know how hard these decisions can be for a state's attorney when dealing with a tragedy like this," Cooper said. "However, given the circumstances, I support this decision. And knowing Jay, I think he would also."

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com .

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