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Safe Hunting?

Westford Man Shot in Hunting Incident

By Andrew Ravens / Staff Writer

Thursday, December 4, 2003

As of Wednesday morning, the condition of a local Pop Warner football coach was upgraded from critical to fair after being accidentally shot in the head Monday morning by a deer-hunting friend when a bear allegedly approached them in the woods in Townsend.

Michael J. Doherty, 41, remains at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester after a friend, aiming for an approaching bear, hit him with a shotgun blast, according to Felix Browne, spokesman for the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

Townsend Police Chief Erving Marshall said Doherty was conscious and talking when rescue personnel arrived at the scene, about a quarter mile northeast where Burgess Road turns into a cart road.

Browne said no charges have been filed and the investigation is being handled by Environmental Police.

Browne said police have yet to conduct any interviews but plan to speak with Doherty's four hunting buddies, present at the time of the shooting.

Because the incident was not a fatality, State Police are not involved in the investigation, Browne said.

According to officials, Doherty and four friends began hunting at about 6:30 a.m. when they stopped to eat around 10 a.m.

"I'm told they were in the midst of eating sandwiches or taking a break to eat," said Browne. "While seated, one or two members of the party noticed a bear approaching."

"One of the parties took aim at the bear and fired a shot with the intention of shooting it," he said. "A second person stood up, took aim and fired as Doherty stood up. He received part of that shotgun blast."

Officials are unsure how far away Doherty, who had has back turned to the alleged bear, was injured from the blast.

Browne did not release the name of the shooter and said the hunters told an investigator they felt threatened by the bear.

"There is no indication this was anything other than an unfortunate accident," said Browne.

Friends of Doherty's are hoping for a speedy recovery.

Stephan Cannellos, whose twin boys played football for Doherty, said the popular coach visited his son, Peter, when he was hospitalized with an autoimmune disease.

According to the Cannellos, Doherty had New England Patriots long snapper Lonnie Paxton sign a football for Peter.

"He's a super guy, always positive with the kids, he did a super job building teamwork," said Cannellos. "He loved what he did."

Friends described Doherty as a "pretty avid hunter," and say he has been hunting for awhile.

"I remember him talking about his great love of hunting," said Cannellos' wife, Jeanne.

Westford Pop Warner officials declined an interview, but offered a written statement.

"Mike Doherty is a true family man and a man whose love of hunting nearly equals that of football," read the statement from the Board of Directors, Westford-Littleton Pop Warner Football and Cheer. "Mike invests countless hours as a tireless advocate of our program and our kids. Mike is a Head Coach, he is Vice-President of our league, but most importantly he is our dear friend."

"Mike is also the toughest guy we know and everyone on our board looks forward to seeing him prowl the sidelines again next fall."

Doherty was wounded on the first day shotgun hunting for deer is allowed in Massachusetts.

He is married and has two sons, one in elementary school and the other at Westford Academy.

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