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Investigators say rifle fired when hunter fell

May 18, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Investigators believe Monday's fatal hunting accident in Tomahawk happened when a hunter tripped and fell, causing his rifle to fire into his friend's chest.

Michael Z. Butts, 39, of Hedgesville, died from a single gunshot wound to the chest while turkey hunting in a wooded area south of the Greenwood Acres subdivision near W.Va. 7, Division of Natural Resources spokesman Hoy Murphy said.

Max Bartgis, 62, of Hedgesville, was hunting with Butts around 9 a.m. when Bartgis apparently tripped and a bullet from his .222-caliber bolt-action hunting rifle hit Butts in the chest, Murphy said.

"It appears it was accidental," he said. "The shooter tripped, fell and discharged his rifle."

Bartgis ran to a nearby home for help, but Butts was pronounced dead at the scene, DNR Conservation Officer Mike Sibole said.

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Results from an autopsy were unavailable Tuesday, according to the State Medical Examiner's office in Morgantown, W.Va.

DNR investigators were still examining the circumstances surrounding the shooting and will consult with Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely to determine any possibility of criminal charges, Murphy said.

A woman who answered the phone at the home of Butts' parents in Hedgesville declined comment on the shooting.

Butts had been employed as a general help worker at Schmidt Baking Co. in Martinsburg, according to company supervisor Kirk Johnson.

The death was the first hunting fatality during this year's West Virginia turkey hunting season, which opened April 26 and closes Saturday, Sibole said.

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