A hunter who accidentally shot and killed a friend while deer hunting could face criminal charges, an Otsego County prosecutor said Tuesday.
Charles Bruce, 52, of Franklin Square in Nassau County, was shot in the chest while hunting Nov. 16, state police at Oneonta said, and he died at the scene in woods near Steve Braun Road in the town of Westford.
Regular deer hunting season had begun that day in the state’s Southern Zone. Bruce, a volunteer firefighter, was with a group that included members of the Malverne fire department.
District Attorney John Muehl said the case is likely to be presented to a grand jury. The shooter, who was in a tree stand about 60 yards away, thought he saw an antler, Muehl said, but it turned out to be his friend.
Though considered an accident, the shooter isn’t relieved of responsibility and the possibility of facing homicide charges, Muehl said. The district attorney said he couldn’t identify the shooter because he hasn’t been arrested or accused.
The shooter could face charges of criminally negligent homicide or, depending on a consideration of recklessness, second-degree manslaughter, Muehl said. No date has been yet set to convene the next grand jury, he said.
“It’s a tragic case — by all accounts the two were best friends,” Muehl said. The shooter has an awful fact to bear, he said, but the family also has to cope with having lost a relative.
Muehl said his understanding was that Bruce wasn’t wearing any clothing colored blaze orange, which authorities encourage as a safety feature.
Although state law doesn’t require hunters to wear bright orange, the Department of Environmental Conservation website said studies report that hunters wearing blaze orange are seven times less likely to be injured than hunters who are not wearing orange. During the past 10 years, no one wearing hunter orange was mistaken for game and killed in New York, according to the site.
Muehl said he prosecuted a hunter shooting case a few years ago. The victim didn’t die, he said, and the shooter was convicted of misdemeanor assault.