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CO: Off-duty L.A. County sheriff's deputy kills hunting companion

November 19, 2010

Off-duty L.A. County sheriff's deputy kills hunting companion

In a freak accident in rural Colorado, his rifle goes off after he tumbles down a steep incline and the bullet strikes his friend in the head.

An off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy killed his hunting companion in a freak accident during a trip in rural Colorado, officials said. The unidentified deputy was elk hunting with a small group on a friend's property last week. That friend was guiding the deputy down a steep incline during a morning trek when he tumbled to the ground. Almost immediately afterward, the deputy fell too, dropping his rifle and causing it to go off, authorities said. The shot struck the deputy's friend in the head, killing him instantly.

Authorities identified the victim as 68-year-old James Ayer. An investigation is ongoing, but local officials are calling the shooting an accident - and one of the most bizarre they have come across. "This is very rare," said Montrose County Coroner Thomas Canfield. "I've been here 40 years [and] I've never seen an accident like this."

The shooting has drawn the attention of local media in Colorado, but law enforcement officials there have declined to release the shooter's name until their investigation is completed and their findings are presented to prosecutors, as is protocol. Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed that the hunter whose rifle went off is a deputy with the department, but declined to identify him. "The department, as always, offers its support. Anything the deputy needs is there," Whitmore said, adding that the deputy declined to be interviewed, and has returned to work.

Local officials described the terrain where the party was hunting as mountainous. Recent weather had left the area wet. "Elk-hunting terrain is usually not flat," said Montrose County Undersheriff Kevin Walters. "Terrain out there can change very quickly from level flat to steep." Walters said he does not anticipate criminal charges in connection with the Nov. 9 incident, which occurred near the town of Maher. "It is a terrible accident," he said. "It's definitely not something you see every day but in our opinion, it's an accident.".

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