Despite some public criticism, police insist that the who shot a 66-year-old Norton woman in a on Dec. 31, the last day of hunting season, is not receiving special treatment.
Cheryl Blair, who was wearing a blue coat, was walking her two golden retrievers New Year's Eve when she got knocked to the ground by the gunshot. John Bergeron, 50, also of Norton, mistook them for a deer he saw in the area earlier.
The questions lie in the location and time the incident took place.
Massachusetts hunting laws state that firearms must not be discharged on the land of another within 500 feet of any dwelling or building in use, except as authorized by the owner or occupant thereof. Because the wooded area is so large, investigators had to obtain plot plans and speak with the town assessors to accurately determine who owned the property. Police say that though Blair was found in the woods behind her home at 98 Oak St., the area in which the incident took place was reported as being 800 feet from any residence, and was not her property. The land is privately owned by someone who gave Bergeron permission to hunt there.
After finding out Bergeron shot the woman with his black powder rifle, he called 911 at 4:55 p.m. Law states that hunting must end a half hour after sunset, which was approximately 4:23 p.m. that night. This puts the mandatory end-time at 4:53 p.m., just two minutes before the call was place.
“Investigators determined that the incident took place several minutes prior to the call being placed,” explained Lieutenant Todd Jackson. “This was due to the time it took him to get to her and other factors. The initial 911 call went to state police because it was dialed from a cell phone. Once the state police dispatcher knows where the incident took place, it is transferred to that location; Norton in this case.”
No charges have been filed, and it is unlikely Bergeron’s hunting license was revoked.
And then there's the question of negligence. Blair was wearing a blue coat and not the orange vest that is suggested when walking in hunting areas. Bergeron mistook her two retreivers as a deer, and did not notice Blair at all.
The victim’s husband Jim Blair, a hunter himself, told WBZ-TV Monday there should be consequences.
“I can forgive an accident,” says Jim Blair. “But he said he was shooting at a tail. That was the tail of my dog, not a deer. You have to have target recognition, and he failed to do that. And I cannot forgive that.”
“The detectives are working hard to see that the investigation is thorough and complete before closing it out,” Jackson said.
“I can say with certainty that the fact he is a trooper has no bearing on the investigation.”
Many in town have also voiced their concerns over current hunting regulations.
“The place to take up changing the rules is Town Meeting,” wrote a user named Mark Stoughton in our original report. “While I have nothing against hunters, or their rights to hunt, their rights have to end where my right to live safely in my own back yard begin.
“The town has grown considerably in the last 20 years or so. Many of our neighborhoods are now dangerously close to hunting areas. I don't know if our local hunting regulations have been updated in that time, but with more an more houses being built, it's time to revisit them. We're still rural enough that an outright ban may be overkill, but we should look at restricting hunting zones in town.”
At this time there are no proposals to change hunting bylaws in town.
Norton Police Department reminds hunters to use all safety precautions possible while hunting and abide by local hunting laws. Others in wooded areas should be aware of hunting season and wear orange clothing to stand out during that time.