Shotgun blast was meant for rodent, not road crew

County workers fear foul play, summon police to rural Arundel

July 11, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Louise Trott was gunning for a groundhog yesterday.

But the situation escalated when five Anne Arundel County road workers thought they were the target and radioed for help.

Police responded with an armored personnel carrier, a helicopter and a squad of tactical officers - not realizing the shots had come from a 52-year-old woman taking vengeance on a garden-grubbing rodent with a 12-gauge.

"We didn't know what we had at first," said Sgt. Joseph Jordan, a county police spokesman, after the dust had settled in rural Lothian. "We err on the side of caution."

Michael Haller, a county public works employee for 11 years, said he heard one shot and saw two of his co-workers duck.

"I was scared for all of us. You couldn't see anyone, that was part of it," he said.

The workers radioed for police about 11:15 a.m., and it took more than an hour for the officers to determine what had happened.

While officers were staking out the perimeter of the property, the woman came out "peacefully" and explained that she had been shooting at a groundhog under her shed, police said.

"It was all a misunderstanding," said Trott, who brought down her furry target in three shots.

Trott, a retired secretary, lives on the family farm.

"I wasn't shooting at anyone. I didn't know people were down there. I'm sorry they were frightened," she said.

The public works crew had been marking Upper Pindell Road for the painting of new stripes when, they said, the first blast whizzed overhead.

"There's no mistaking about it-I heard the bullet zing right by our heads," said Alfred Kelly, who has been working for county public works for 32 years. "It must have only been about 10 feet or so."

After her first blast, Trott went back in the house, reloaded and fired two more shots at the groundhog, which was then behind the house, Jordan said.

Police are trying to determine whether any of the shots could have reached the county workers - all men, ranging in age from 27 to 51.

The initial shot was fired from the front of the house, about 200 yards away, and should not have reached the road, Jordan said.

Shooting on private property is permitted, but must be at least 100 yards from the nearest occupied structure or roadway, Jordan said. Trott, who was well within the legal limits, will not be charged, he added.

Trott said she was after the groundhog because the creatures burrow in fields and damage farm equipment.

"They eat gardens," she said. "They also carry the tick that causes Lyme disease."

The vermin's carcass was lying in a wooded area when police arrived.

As for the county workers, they were met by crisis counselors when they returned to the office, said Assistant Public Works Director Robert H. Loomis.

"They were evidently doing much better once they found she wasn't aiming at them," he said.

After several hours waiting in the hot sun as police sorted out the facts, the workers said they were glad to be in the air conditioning and all in one piece.

"We're fine," said Haller, adding that the crew would be back at work today. "We're just not going back to that street."

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