3 ATV riders face big fines over illegal-hunting charges
Friday, January 25, 2008
BY BRIAN T. MURRAY
Three members of a Passaic County family have been charged by
state wildlife officials with indiscriminately shooting bear and
deer from all-terrain vehicles.
Eight deer were poached and at least two bears fired upon, with
one killed, since October, according to the state Division of Fish
and Wildlife, in a case heading to West Milford municipal court in
Authorities said nothing about the trio's alleged conduct
followed recognized hunting practices or the law. In addition to
illegally using the ATVs and hunting out of season, one suspect
fired a .22-caliber Winchester rifle, a firearm not permitted for
taking large game.
New Jersey also does not currently have a bear hunting season.
"It's rare. We hear of things like this a few times each year ...
but something of this magnitude doesn't always happen," said state
Conservation Officer Andrew Hutchinson, the lead investigator.
Piotr Stelmach, 20, of West Milford is charged with illegally
shooting two bear with the rifle. His brother Vicenty Stelmach, 27,
of West Milford is charged with illegally assisting him, and he
faces deer-poaching violations. Their cousin, Dariusz T. Baba, 30,
of West Milford is charged with illegally shooting several deer, and
all three face additional charges involving carrying firearms on
The violations involve state hunting and wildlife protection
regulations, and the penalties could add up to more than $11,000 if
they are convicted.
State authorities said the probe began when police were told that
two bears were shot Nov. 17 by two men riding ATVs through a wooded
swamp off Ridge Road.
"A bow-hunter, who was apparently in the area and saw this
happen, reported it," said Hutchinson.
"He called police at about 4:15 p.m. on his cell phone. ... He
said he saw the bears running, heard what he said was rifle or
pistol fire and saw the ATV riders," said Darlene Yuhas of the state
Department of Environmental Protection.
The ATVs were gone by the time an officer arrived, according to
West Milford police. State conservation officers were notified, and
they arrived the next day, finding the carcass of one bear and a
light blood trail left by the second bruin.
Hutchinson said he believed the second bear survived.
A necropsy of the dead bear determined it had been shot with a
.22-caliber rifle, but the state had no suspects until Dec. 8, when
state officers got another telephone call from the same hunter who
had called police about the bears. He dialed conservation officers
directly, reporting that the armed ATV riders were back.
"Because we received the call so quickly, our officers responded
immediately and found the ATV riders, which led to further
investigation and eventually the filing of multiple charges," said
Hutchinson claims to have found Piotr Stelmach and his cousin,
Baba, with firearms and driving ATVs in the Ridge Road area, where
Stelmach lives. Summonses were not immediately issued, but the two
were interviewed, and both men denied involvement in the bear
shootings, according to a report Hutchinson filed.
During subsequent visits to Piotr Stelmach's home, illegally
harvested deer were found, according to state reports, which contend
that Stelmach eventually admitted shooting the bears with a rifle
and implicated his older brother.
The three suspects could not be reached for comment, and township
court authorities said they have not yet been notified whether any
of the suspects has retained an attorney.