Survivor hopes her case reminds hunters to be careful
By JENNIFER GISH
Daily Record/Sunday News
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Jason Plotkin - YDR
Sean Erik Wolfe looks over the shoulder of his mother, Kristen, as
she shows photos from five years ago, when she was hit in the head
by a hunter’s errant bullet. She was pregnant with Sean Erik at the
Five-year-old Sean Erik Wolfe had never seen the pictures of his mother
with her head shaved and a long scar running along her skull where
surgeons went in to remove a blood clot.
He was in her belly then, she told him. Kristen Wolfe was five months
pregnant with Sean Erik on June 26, 1999, when she was shot in the
head by a groundhog hunter while riding along a rural road in Manheim
The Glenville woman and a friend were returning from a trip to the
store at about 4 p.m. when Wolfe heard a cracking noise and saw a hole
in the passenger side of the windshield, right in front of where she
Then she felt warm and realized there was blood running down the left
side of her head.
Within an hour, doctors at a shock-trauma unit at a Maryland hospital
were operating on her.
She was one of 83 people in Pennsylvania injured that year in hunting-related
“Mom, was it a rifle that shot you?” Sean Erik asked last week as
the 29-year-old Wolfe pulled out a collection of photos and newspaper
articles she had saved about the incident.
The hunter was found guilty of firing too close to the road and received
$1,200 in fines and 18 months on probation. He was forbidden from possessing
a weapon during that 18 months.
“I never talked to the hunter,” said Wolfe, a homemaker, student and
mother of three boys. “You feel bad for them because you know they
didn’t intentionally try to do that, but at the same time you’re mad
because you think he could have killed me, things could have been a
Kristen Wolfe of Glenville saved photos taken after doctors operated
on a blood clot in her head that was the result of being accidentally
shot by a hunter.
Recent news of hunting-related shootings has triggered memories of
the incident for Wolfe, who ever since the shooting has been nervous
when driving during hunting season.
On Monday afternoon, a hunter shooting at a deer across a Winterstown
road hit a woman driving back to her North Hopewell Township home in
The day before, a 16-year-old boy was on the first floor of his Stewartstown
home showing two others his Marlin 30-30 hunting rifle when he inadvertently
shot a 35-year-old man who was in bed on the second floor. The man
was wounded in the leg.
And on Tuesday, a pregnant woman in the Allentown area was shot in
the head and critically injured, apparently struck by a stray bullet
from a hunter as she was leaving her driveway.
Since January, there have been 50 hunting-related shootings in Pennsylvania,
said Jerry Feaser, spokesman for the state Game Commission.
“These types of incidents are very rare,” he said. “However, each
and every incident is unfortunate, and if you look at it, in most cases,
Hunting-related shootings drop
State game laws outline the buffer zones for hunters. Most are just
common sense, Feaser said. Hunters are not permitted to shoot across
public roads when a vehicle could pass through the line of fire. It’s
also illegal to shoot, trap or pursue game within a 150-yard area around
homes, camps, farm buildings, businesses, schools or day-cares. Hunting
on hospital, institution or cemetery grounds is illegal.
Hunters violating the law face misdemeanor charges and related penalties.
The Game Commission can revoke hunting privileges for anywhere from
two to 15 years.
But game officials say preventative measures are what have led hunters
to be more careful in the woods, rather than fear of fines or license
Feaser said hunting-related shootings have dropped 80 percent since
the state began offering hunter-safety courses in 1959.
The number fell even further after the state mandated hunter-safety
training for all first-time hunters in 1982 and required hunters to
wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange in 1988.
Last year, 57 people statewide were injured or killed in hunting-related
shootings. That’s down from 85 incidents 10 years before.
But Wolfe still gets nervous when she hears gunfire. She spent three
days in the hospital recovering from her injuries. Wolfe didn’t incur
any long-term physical damage, but she’s thought about what would have
happened if her head had been turned just a bit.
She doesn’t hold any anger toward the hunter who shot her.
Still, when she leaves to attend college classes at night, her oldest
son, Austin, who was 5 at the time of the shooting, gives her a hug.
He’s afraid of dangers he wouldn’t have otherwise known existed.
“Who thought in the middle of the day you would go to the store and
get shot in the head?” Wolfe said. “You know it’s an accident, but,
still, it’s careless.”
For instructor, a personal tale
Last week, Lloyd Wilhelm was called back from a hunting trip when
he learned his wife, Janet, had been shot by a hunter as she was driving
home along Swamp Road in Winterstown. The bullet pierced the driver’s
side door and hit her in the thigh and sending her to the hospital,
where she arrived in serious condition.
The hunter is expected to face a misdemeanor charge of causing serious
bodily injury by shooting and four summary offenses — shooting within
150 yards of an occupied building or dwelling; shooting across a road;
damaging property by shooting; and causing bodily injury by shooting,
according to the game commission.
Causing serious bodily injury is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable
by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 to $5,000 fine and revocation
of hunting and trapping privileges for five to 10 years, Feaser said.
Ironically, Wilhelm has also taught the state’s hunter-safety course
for the last 36 years. When he teaches the classes again next July,
he said, he’ll stress even further the importance of being careful.
“Definitely make sure of your target, what’s around it, and what’s
beyond it. And be aware of where you are hunting — that you’re not
hunting in a safety-zone area,” Wilhelm said.
He said he understands the adrenaline rush that sometimes comes with
the sport. “You’ve got to be able to control your thoughts . . . You
can’t call it back.”
Typically, Wilhelm invites a man who was wounded while groundhog hunting
into his class as a guest speaker. Now, he said, he’ll have a more
personal cautionary tale to share.
Still, Wilhelm said he hates to see hunters get a bad rap because
of the careless actions of a few. He said he feels safer in the woods
during hunting season than he did in the hospital parking lot, where
he almost got into a fender-bender while visiting his wife last week.
“The majority of hunters out there are really safety-minded and ethical,
and it’s one of the safest sports that you can get into,” he said.
Wolfe’s dark hair has long since covered her scar. And you can only
see the small mark under her eye, the one left when a fragment of the
bullet grazed the apple of her left cheek, when she smiles.
Sean Erik, who experienced no ill effects from the shooting as he
was in his mother’s womb, keeps her busy as he chases after the family’s
Wolfe hopes what happened to her might serve as a reminder to hunters
to be careful.
Just like Sean Erik provides a little reminder to her about how fortunate
she was to have survived the shooting five years ago.
Reach Jennifer Gish at 771-2090 or [email protected]