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VT - 77-year-old shoots man in a tree instead of a squirrel

Innocent plea in accidental shooting case

September 26, 2007

BENNINGTON A 77-year-old man pleaded not guilty on Tuesday after police said he accidentally shot a man in a tree while trying to shoot a squirrel.

David Vanderwerken Sr. of Shaftsbury was arraigned on a misdemeanor charge of simple assault with a weapon in Bennington County District Court on Tuesday.

Police said Bryan Mills, 21, of Brandon, was shot while removing tree branches near a power line off of Eleanor Way and West Mountain Road in Shaftsbury around 8:40 a.m. June 18.

The shooting was investigated by Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Daniel Elliott of the Rutland barracks.

Elliott said he spoke with Henry Grandchamp in Shaftsbury on June 18. Grandchamp and Mills are both employees of Trees Inc..

Grandchamp said he, Mills and a third employee had been in the area since about 7:30 a.m. using chainsaws to clear tree limbs from surrounding power lines.

According to Grandchamp, the workers had switched to hand and pole saws and Mills had been in a tree for about half an hour when Grandchamp heard the shot.

Grandchamp told police he didn't see the shooter although he looked around and called out.

According to Grandchamp, Mills didn't realize he had been shot immediately. Grandchamp said Mills asked him about the noise and Grandchamp said he thought it was a gunshot.

Mills then realized he was bleeding and said he had been shot, according to the affidavit.

Police said Mills was hit in the upper body by shotgun pellets. He was taken to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and released the next day.

Grandchamp said he spotted Vanderwerken after Mills said he had been shot. Grandchamp told police he called out to the man, whom he did not know, and the man said he had shot at something in the tree.

According to Grandchamp, he told the man he had shot Grandchamp's co-worker and the man turned and walked away.

After police spoke with Bennington County Fish and Game Warden Travis Buttle, they concluded Vanderwerken may have been the shooter based on Grandchamp's description and the location of Vanderwerken's home.

Police said they found Vanderwerken down the road from his home mowing a lawn.

According to Elliott, Vanderwerken initially told police he had fired his shotgun that morning at a woodchuck, but police were unable to find any evidence of a gunshot in the area where Vanderwerken said he saw the woodchuck.

Vanderwerken later told police his hearing, vision and memory were not very good, according to Elliott.

Elliott said in the course of the investigation, Grandchamp saw Vanderwerken and identified him as the man he had seen in the woods that morning.

After police told him about the witness, Vanderwerken admitted to speaking with someone in the woods, Elliott said.

Eventually, Vanderwerken told police he had been shooting at a squirrel in a pine tree at the edge of his property, according to the affidavit.

Vanderwerken is being represented by Bennington attorney David Silver, according to court documents.

If convicted, Vanderwerken could be sentenced to up to a year in prison.

Vanderwerken was released without bail on Tuesday. His next scheduled court appearance is on Oct. 22.

Contact Patrick McArdle at patrick.mcardle@rutlandherald.com.

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