Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > 2006

Bush 'satisfied' with Cheney's explanation of shooting

Authorities say shooting was accidental; no charges filed

Thursday, February 16, 2006; Posted: 8:10 p.m. EST (01:10 GMT) Thursday, February 16, 2006; Posted: 8:10 p.m. EST (01:10 GMT)

(CNN) -- President Bush and local authorities said Thursday they are satisfied with Vice President Dick Cheney's account of how he accidentally shot a 78-year-old hunting companion over the weekend.

As sheriff's department officials announced there would be no charges filed against Cheney, Bush said that his vice president handled the situation well.

"I thought the vice president handled the issue just fine, and I thought his explanation yesterday was a powerful explanation," Bush told reporters after meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. "I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave."

Bush, a former Texas governor, also said that he knew Whittington, an Austin attorney and major player in Texas politics, and that he and Cheney were concerned about Whittington's condition.

"It profoundly affected (Cheney). Yesterday when he was here in the Oval Office I saw the deep concern he had about a person who he wounded," the president said. "And now our concerns are directed toward the recovery of our friend."

Meanwhile, Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas said that authorities investigating the shooting have deemed it a "mere hunting accident" and that no charges will be filed.

Salinas made his remarks shortly after his office released a report stating that the victim, Harry Whittington, insisted alcohol had no role in the shooting. The attorney also was concerned that the accident could give Texas hunting a bad name, according to the report.

"Mr. Whittington again reiterated that this incident was just an accident," the report states.

Though hunting accidents occasionally warrant warnings or citations, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Aaron Reed said criminal charges are not filed in shootings that authorities determine to be accidental.

"There are no charges for hunting accidents," Reed said in an e-mail, explaining that citations or warnings are sometimes issued for code violations. The most common citations in 2005 were for failure to complete hunter education and failure to have a hunting license, according to the department.

A state game warden issued a warning to Cheney for hunting without a required stamp on his license, and the vice president's office later submitted payment for the stamp.

In Thursday's report, Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel Jr. states that he went to the Armstrong Ranch, in south Texas, about 8 a.m. Sunday -- more than 14 hours after the shooting, which took place Saturday around 5:30 p.m.

Police knew of the shooting Saturday. However, no one was interviewed until the next day, when San Miguel talked to Cheney and other witnesses at the ranch.

Cheney's office didn't announce that the accident had occurred until Sunday afternoon, after ranch owner Katharine Armstrong told a Corpus Christi newspaper about it.

The report concurs with Whittington's assertion that alcohol was not a factor in the shooting, though Cheney acknowledged Wednesday in an interview to having one beer at lunch several hours before the shooting.

In the interview with Fox News, Cheney accepted blame for the shooting and said it was "one of the worst days of my life."

Whittington suffered a mild heart attack Tuesday, doctors said, after a piece of the bird shot that was lodged in his body migrated to a heart muscle. Doctors said Thursday he was doing extremely well and was joking with them.

Whittington should be released in the next few days, hospital officials said.

The White House, which has faced a barrage of questions from reporters all week about the shooting and the delay in disclosing it, seemed to grow weary of the story Thursday. A spokesman said that Cheney has "pretty thoroughly addressed the questions that were raised."

"I think the American people are looking at this and saying, 'Enough already. Let's focus on the priorities that are most important to this nation,' " Scott McClellan said, urging reporters not to "overanalyze" the situation. "If there's additional information the vice president's office thinks is appropriate to share, I'm sure they will."

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department states there were 30 hunting accidents in the state last year. There have been four so far this year, including Cheney's, Reed said.

Of the 30 accidents in 2005, only two involved fatalities -- a deer hunter who shot himself with a rifle and a hog hunter who killed his granddaughter when a bullet ricocheted off the top of his vehicle and struck her in the chest and leg.

Eleven of the accidents involved shotguns and the hunt for small birds, either quail, pheasants or doves. In all 11 cases, the report states, the victims were hit by a "shooter swinging on game outside of his safe zone of fire."


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