Bridport shooting case hits court
MIDDLEBURY — A Bridport man pleaded innocent in Addison County District Court on Monday to charges of simple assault with a weapon and reckless endangerment, in connection with the accidental shooting of a neighbor on Aug. 13, 2010.
State authorities who investigated the case allege that Tracy M. Stone, 35, had alcohol in his system and was knowingly firing a malfunctioning firearm at the time that Peter Damone, then 76, was struck in the left arm and face by a .45-calibre round while grilling on his porch almost a half a mile away.
Damone, now 77, was among those present at Monday’s arraignment of Stone, who quickly exited the Frank Mahady Courthouse after being released on conditions. Stone faces up to a year in jail or up to a $1,000 fine on each of the two charges, if convicted.
“It’s a bad accident, but one you have to be responsible for,” Damone, still recovering from his injuries, said following the arraignment. He added he supports people’s rights to own firearms, but stressed, “If they pull that trigger, they have to be responsible for what happens at the other end.”
Damone’s jaw is held in place by a metal bar and he has not been able to eat solid food since being felled by the stray bullet while standing on his porch off Swinton Road. During an interview with the Addison Independentlast fall, Damone described how he was talking on his cell phone when he suddenly felt a burning sensation pierce his left arm, then a tremendous blow to his jaw that sent him sprawling into a wooden storage box on his porch.
Damone quickly realized that he had taken a bullet that had gone through the fleshy part of his arm and proceeded into his face, taking out about an inch of his jaw while at the same time piercing his tongue. The round remained lodged in the right side of his neck.
His wife Dorothy Damone — who was also at Monday’s arraignment — called 911. As luck would have it, two of the Damones’ neighbors were inspecting hay in an adjacent farm field and quickly came to the injured man’s aid.
He was administered a tracheotomy at Porter Hospital and was then taken to Fletcher Allen Health Care, where he was placed in an induced coma and underwent a series of operations.
Meanwhile, state authorities — led by Vermont State Police Sgt. Robert Patten — launched an investigation that led them to the home of Tracy Stone.
Stone told authorities that he was target shooting and had been the only person firing his .45-caliber Caspian Arms Colt model 1911 handgun that evening, according to court records.
He also acknowledged having consumed around four cans of beer prior to target practicing, with an “additional couple of beers being consumed by him afterwards,” according to Patten’s affidavit. Stone agreed to submit to an alco-sensor test after 9 p.m. that evening that showed his blood-alcohol content to be 0.068 percent, according to court records. As a point of reference, the legal limit for driving is 0.08 percent.
Police said Stone reported he had been target practicing behind his home, firing in a northerly direction at a target on a sawhorse. The target, according to police, consisted of a paper bulls-eye along with several cans and soda bottles.
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Warden Dale Whitlock, who helped investigate the matter, indicated there was “no safe backdrop behind the target area as said area consisted of an open field that bordered a wood line,” according to court records. That wood line is located around 200 yards north of the area where Stone was shooting, according to police.
Investigators said Stone told them his handgun had been malfunctioning that evening.
“Stone would explain that the .45-caliber handgun, which he estimated he had fired 30 times, would occasionally fire two rounds with a single trigger pull. Stone added that on one occasion, the handgun might have fired three shots with a single trigger pull,” according to Patten’s affidavit. Stone also acknowledged to police that “while he was shooting from a standing position, the handgun was firing high, noted to have been about eight to 10 inches above the target,” according to court records.
Stone voluntarily surrendered his handgun and some shell casings to police to further the investigation. Officials at the Vermont Forensic Lab examined that evidence, along with the bullet pulled from Damone’s neck. Officials confirmed that Stone’s gun was malfunctioning and that the round that struck Damone revealed it “is consistent in class and characteristics with the examined firearm.”
NEIGHBORS HEARD SHOTS
One of the Damones’ neighbors told authorities she began hearing shots at 7:45 that evening and they continued after Peter Damone had been shot, according to court records. The shots were coming from a southerly direction, she said, alleging that around 12 rounds came close to her home “as she witnessed leaves and small branches falling onto her porch roof,” according to court records. The neighbor told police she had been yelling at the shooter to stop between rounds and had been considering calling police when she heard yelling from the Damones’ home.
Other neighbors told police they heard the gunshots, according to court records.
Authorities used a map and compass to trace the origin of the rounds vis-à-vis the Damone residence. They said they traced a trail that led them from Stone’s shooting location, across a field, through an adjacent wooded area, and on a line to the Damones’ residence, according to court records.
Ultimately, Patten determined probable cause to believe that Stone had “acted in a negligent and reckless manner causing bodily injury to another based upon his continued shooting of a firearm that he knew to be malfunctioning, shooting said firearm without a backdrop, shooting said firearm with alcohol in his system and subsequently shooting several rounds that came in close proximity to multiple residences, with one round striking and seriously injuring Peter M. Damone.”
Damone said he will not be able to resume normal physical activities — or eat solid food — until the end of July. He has been able to put on some weight, thanks to protein drinks and soft foods that don’t require chewing.
Damone said he is pleased that authorities are asking Stone to be “accountable for his actions.”
The family has not yet decided whether to pursue a civil lawsuit to recover what he said have been tens of thousands of dollars spent on his recovery from the incident.
“We’re anxious to get it over with; we will take is step by step,” Damone said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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