Bridport man sentenced in accidental shooting case
MIDDLEBURY — A Bridport man on Monday accepted a plea deal from the county prosecutor that calls for him to perform 80 hours of community service and pay almost $14,000 in medical expenses incurred by a man he accidentally shot while target practicing at his Bridport home more than a year ago.
Tracy Stone, 36, last April entered an initial plea of not guilty in Addison County District Court to charges of simple assault and reckless endangerment in the accidental shooting of his neighbor Peter Damone on Aug. 13, 2010.
Investigators alleged that Stone had alcohol in his system and was knowingly firing a malfunctioning firearm at a target — without a backstop — at the time that Damone was struck in the left arm and face by a .45-caliber round while standing on his Swinton Road porch a half-mile away. The round went 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 bullet remained lodged in the right side of his neck.
After the shooting, Damone was rushed to the hospital and could easily have died from his wounds, Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster said. Physicians reconstructed Damone’s jaw. He was only recently able to resume eating solid food.
Stone faced a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, on both the simple assault and reckless endangerment charges.
But prosecutors and Stone arrived at a plea deal accepted by Vermont Superior Court Judge Helen Toor on Monday morning. That deal calls for Stone to:
• Pay $13,930 in restitution for medical expenses — largely dental — that Damone would otherwise have had to pay out-of-pocket for his injuries.
• Serve two years on probation, during which time he is not allowed to possess firearms.
• Write a formal letter of apology to the Damones.
• Take a hunter safety or firearm safety course.
• Perform 80 hours of community service. Fenster said he hopes Stone will perform the community service in a manner that will allow him to describe his case as a cautionary tale to others.
Damone and his wife, Dorothy, were present in the courtroom when Stone made his plea. Damone said after the proceedings that he was satisfied with the deal.
“It’s part of moving on,” Damone, 77, said. “We do realize that even though he didn’t use good judgment, it was an accident.
“We are certainly glad it’s finally over.”
Fenster agreed that the incident was a tragic accident. He said that for the bullet to travel a half-mile through a thickly forested area and to strike Damone on his porch that day was a “one-in-a-million” happenstance.
“From Mr. Stone’s house, you wouldn’t even know that Mr. Damone’s house existed,” Fenster said. “There were investigators there at the scene who couldn’t understand how this could have happened in the first place, given the wood line, distance and type of gun being fired.”
But investigators, Fenster noted, ultimately determined the bullet could have hit Damone when considering the misfiring handgun (which would occasionally fire two rounds with a single trigger pull) and the lack of a backstop behind the shooting target area.
“Not having a backstop is negligent if you are target practicing,” Fenster said.
“Not only did he injure Mr. Damone, he put a number of other people at risk,” Fenster said.
But when considering punishment, Fenster said it didn’t seem a propos to request jail time for Stone, given the accidental nature of the incident and Stone’s lack of criminal history.
Stone was conciliatory and humble in his remarks to Judge Toor.
“I feel really bad about what happened to the Damones,” Stone said in addressing the court. “I hope to close this for them and myself, and for them to continue with their lives in a safe manner. I have learned a great lesson with this. I apologize to the Damones for all the injuries and hardship they have encountered. I also apologize to the court for the time involved in this situation.”
Toor accepted the plea deal, though added she would have considered harsher sanctions had the Damones pressed for them. She added the Legislature would be well-served in considering new laws to more clearly define safety standards for target practice in order to better protect the public.
Toor also encouraged Stone to reach out to the Damones beyond the terms of the plea deal.
“That doesn’t mean that you can’t do more for them,” Toor said. “Sometimes that’s the most healing thing in a situation like this; if you’re willing to accept it, to offer them additional support in whatever ways they might need.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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