Feb 14, 3:56 AM (ET)
By NEDRA PICKLER
WASHINGTON (AP) - Vice President Dick Cheney has been given a warning
citation for breaking Texas hunting law by failing to buy a $7 stamp
allowing him to shoot upland game birds.
The warning came from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department after
it investigated Cheney's accidental shooting of a fellow quail hunter
Saturday on the private Armstrong Ranch in the south part of the state.
The department found the accident was caused by a "hunter's judgment
factor" when Cheney sprayed another hunter while aiming at flying birds.
The report said the victim, prominent Republican attorney Harry
Whittington of Austin, was retrieving a downed bird and stepped out of
the hunting line he was sharing with Cheney. "Another covey was flushed
and Cheney swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face,
neck and chest at approximately 30 yards," the report said.
Cheney, an experienced hunter, has not commented publicly about the
accident. His office said Monday night in a statement that Cheney had a
$125 nonresident hunting license and has sent a $7 check to cover the
cost of the stamp. "The staff asked for all permits needed, but was not
informed of the $7 upland game bird stamp requirement," the statement
Whittington also received a warning for failing to have the stamp. A
department spokesman said warnings are being issued in most cases
because the stamp requirement only went into effect five months ago and
many hunters aren't aware of it.
Whittington was in stable condition at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus
Christi-Memorial and was moved from intensive care to a "step-down unit"
Monday. Doctors decided to leave several birdshot pellets lodged in his
skin rather than try to remove them.
Katharine Armstrong, owner of the ranch where the shooting occurred,
said it happened toward the end of the hunt, when it was still sunny but
as darkness was encroaching and they were preparing to go inside. She
said Whittington made a mistake by not announcing that he had walked up
to rejoin the hunting line, and Cheney didn't see him as he tried to
down a bird.
Armstrong said she saw Cheney's security detail running toward the
scene. "The first thing that crossed my mind was he had a heart
problem," she told The Associated Press.
She said Cheney stayed "close but cool" while the agents and medical
personnel treated Whittington, then took him by ambulance to the
hospital. Later, the hunting group sat down for dinner while Whittington
was being treated, receiving updates from a family member at the
hospital. Armstrong described Cheney's demeanor during dinner as "very
worried" about Whittington.
Pamela Willeford, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, another member
of the hunting party, told The Dallas Morning News for a story in
Tuesday's editions that she and Cheney didn't realize Whittington had
picked up a bird and caught up with them.
Willeford said she has hunted with Cheney before and would again.
"He's a great shot. He's very safety conscious. This is something
that unfortunately was a bad accident and when you're with a group like
that, he's safe or safer than all the rest of us," she said.
The accident raised questions about Cheney's adherence to hunting
safety practices and the White House's failure to disclose the accident
in a timely way.
Duane Harvey, president of the Wisconsin Hunter Education Instructors
Association, said if Whittington had made his presence known "that would
have been a polite thing to do." But, he added, "it's still the fault
upon the shooter to identify his target and what is beyond it."
President Bush was told about Cheney's involvement in the accident
shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday - about an hour after it occurred - but
the White House did not disclose the accident until Sunday afternoon,
and then only in response to press questions.
Facing a press corps upset that news had been withheld, press
secretary Scott McClellan said, "I think you can always look back at
these issues and look at how to do a better job."
Armstrong said she told Cheney on Sunday morning that she was going
to inform the local paper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She said he
agreed, and the newspaper was the first to report the incident on its
Web site Sunday afternoon.
Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said that about an hour after
Cheney shot Whittington, the head of the Secret Service's local office
called the Kenedy County sheriff to report the accident. "They made
arrangements at the sheriff's request to have deputies come out and
interview the vice president the following morning at 8 a.m. and that
indeed did happen," Zahren said.
At least one deputy showed up at the ranch's front gate Saturday
evening and asked to speak to Cheney but was turned away by the Secret
Service, Zahren said. There was some miscommunication that arrangements
already had been made to interview Cheney the next morning, he said.
Gilbert San Miguel, chief deputy sheriff for Kenedy County, said the
department's report had not been completed Monday and that it was being
handled as a hunting accident, although he would not comment about what
exactly they were investigating. Both the sheriff's department and the
state have determined that alcohol did not appear to be a factor.