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GA: Children are victims as fatal shootings rise

Children are victims as fatal shootings rise
By Rob Pavey | Outdoors Editor
Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hunting accidents spiked in Georgia during the 2007-08 season, and four of the five fatal incidents involved children or teenagers.

"This has been an unusual year," said Wildlife Resources Division Capt. James Bell, who is the coordinator of the state's Hunter Safety Program. "We've never had that many kids in accidents in the last 10 years."

The season's five casualties included an 8-year-old boy killed by a shotgun blast; a 12-year-old boy who shot and killed his father; a 14-year-old killed while squirrel hunting; and another 14-year-old shot and killed by his brother, who mistook him for a deer.

By comparison, the 2006-07 season included one fatality caused by a fall from a tree stand -- and no fatal shootings.

With 350,000 hunters, Georgia rarely goes an entire year without accidents, Bell said. However, both the number of incidents and fatalities have declined significantly since hunter education programs became mandatory in 1978.

Authorities investigated 21 serious accidents during the 2007-08 season that included -- in addition to the five fatal shootings -- four non-fatal shootings and 12 tree stand accidents.

Here are brief summaries of each fatal accident, based on Wildlife Resources Division incident reports obtained by The Augusta Chronicle through Georgia's Open Records Act:

- Nov. 23: Zachary Gibson, 14, was shot and killed while squirrel hunting in Harris County with 15-year-old Jon Riley and another friend. "On the way home they were just shooting at brush in the woods. The shooter (Riley) was asking the friend a question and pulled the trigger, accidentally shooting the victim (Gibson)." The firearm was a .22-caliber rifle.

- Oct. 19: An 8-year-old boy, Casey Price, died after shooting himself in the chest with a .410 gauge shotgun. The Wayne County child "was on a golf cart hunting birds with a 410 shotgun; victim was alone when incident occurred."

- Nov. 4: Jake Burkett, 14, was shot in the back and killed by his 18-year-old brother, Justin Burkett, while hunting in Coffee County. The official cause: "Mistook brother for game."

- Dec. 28: John Peacock, 39, was shot and killed while hog hunting in Dodge County with his 12-year-old son, who was placed alone in a tree stand. "Father was coming back to stand to get son; son mistook him for game and shot his father."

- July 12: While letting his beagles run rabbits, and carrying a shotgun only "to shoot snakes," 82-year-old Earl Davenport of Chattooga County tripped while crossing a barbed wire gate. "His foot became entangled in the barb wire causing him to fall. As he fell the gun discharged." The chest wound was fatal.

Bell said accidents can occur anywhere -- and affect anyone.

The Coffee County accident involving brothers, he said, was particularly distressing. "It's very ironic that the young fellow that got killed went through hunter education twice -- once when he was 10 and later on with his brother."

With proper adult supervision, hunting remains a wonderful pastime for kids -- and offers parents an opportunity to teach gun safety at their own pace.

"Accidents happen when someone makes a poor choice," Bell said. "Muzzle control and target identification are the two big things. Following those two rules would curb a lot of the accidents."

Parents, he added, must remember that children are still children, even if the child has passed a firearms safety course.

"A parent's rules and regulations should always be more stringent that any state law," he said. "Sometimes we want our kids to be grown before they're grown. But they are still kids and they need us to direct them in everyday life. And that translates to hunting."

In South Carolina, where hunters are required to wear orange only on wildlife management areas, three fatalities were reported during 2007, according to Lt. Jim Wagers of the Department of Natural Resources.

Two fatal shootings occurred during deer hunts (Dec. 31 in Union County and Nov. 23 in Williamsburg County). Neither victim was wearing orange.

A Union County man also died in a tree stand fall.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com 

GEORGIA HUNTING FATALITIES

2007-08 = 5
2006-07 = 1
2005-06 = 4
2004-05 = 4
2003-04 = 1
2002-03 = 4
2001-02 = 10

From the Sunday, January 20, 2008 edition of the Augusta Chronicle

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