Jim Adams, Star Tribune
November 22, 2006
The 45-year-old defendant said he mistook the
brown hair of the 14-year-old victim for the back of a deer.
After spending all of Saturday morning deer hunting with his
14-year-old son, Troy Lanie told the boy he’d go fishing or duck hunting
with him that afternoon near their new Aitkin County cabin.
But Brandon Lanie wanted to do more deer hunting and left with a
neighbor and friends. His father told the group that he’d have pot roast
ready when they got back.
Brandon didn’t return, and his father went looking for him, said
Nicole Lanie, his stepmother. At their hunting area, Troy Lanie found
Aitkin County deputies who told him that Brandon had been shot in the
head by their cabin neighbor just north of Lake Mille Lacs. The
neighbor, Steven J. Ferguson, was charged Tuesday with second-degree
felony manslaughter in Aitkin County District Court.
The charging papers said Ferguson, 45, of Maplewood, called police
about 5 p.m. Saturday after discovering that he had shot Brandon after
mistaking him for a deer. Ferguson said he fired twice after hearing
leaves crunch and seeing something brown move through the thickets some
distance from his tree stand. He said Brandon had brown hair that looked
like a deer’s back.
In court Tuesday, prosecutor Lisa R. Rakotz said Ferguson admitted to
police that he had been drinking alcohol Saturday, which was confirmed
by a witness. She said that Ferguson has had several drunken-driving
convictions—state records show about five since 1993 -- and that his
driver’s license was conditional upon not drinking.
Judge John Leitner also ordered Ferguson not to contact Brandon’s
family and not to drink alcohol, hunt, possess guns or leave Minnesota.
Ferguson’s attorney, Ryan Garry, said after the hearing that
Ferguson, who posted bail, sent his “deepest regards and sympathy to the
family” of the victim. “It was a horrific, tragic accident,” Garry said.
Troy Lanie of Buffalo taught his son safe hunting skills and is still
too distraught to talk about Brandon, Nicole Lanie said. She said
Brandon was “an awesome kid” who loved hunting, fishing, his family, and
their dogs and cat.
He earned good grades as a ninth-grader at Buffalo High School, where
he played golf and liked his industrial arts class. He made a maple
table for his mother, Debra Hulett, with whom he lived about half the
time, Nicole Lanie said. Hulett could not be reached to comment.
Brandon was thrilled when he went hunting recently with his dad and
12-year-old brother, Tyler, because Tyler shot his first deer.
“It didn’t matter that he didn’t shoot one. He was so proud of his
brother. He ... came home grinning ear to ear,” his stepmom said.
Deputies said Brandon was wearing blaze orange pants and coat and a
green and brown camouflage, baseball-style cap.
“People are supposed to identify what they are shooting at. Once you
pull the trigger, you can’t take it back,” Nicole Lanie said.
Basic rules are that a hunter must identify his target and know what
it is and what’s beyond it, said Ross Opsahl, a regional training
officer for the state Department of Natural Resources.
He said hunters must wear blaze orange from the waist up, except for
their sleeves and hands. They don’t need to wear a hat, but if they do
it must be blaze orange, he said.
Jim Adams 612-673-7658