Crossbow inquiry almost complete

DNR police offer details of hunting accident that killed 10-year-old

November 01, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

QUEEN ANNE - The 10-year-old Baltimore County boy killed Oct. 25 in an Eastern Shore hunting accident was climbing down from a tree stand when his crossbow fired, hitting him in the chest, Department of Natural Resources Police said yesterday.

Offering the first details of the incident, DNR officers at the Queen Anne station said Tyler Stephen Mattison was about 17 feet above the ground when he called out to his father that he had been shot. Christopher Stephen Mattison climbed up the tree to help his son, then rushed to a nearby residence to call 911 when his cell phone couldn't get reception.

The Perry Hall fifth-grader, who was shot in the upper chest during the first year of Maryland's expanded crossbow hunting season, died about 6:30 p.m. on the private property in Talbot County where he had been hunting.

The boy's death marks the first hunting fatality this year. DNR officials said two people died while hunting last year, both from heart attacks while in the woods.

DNR Police Superintendent Col. Scott Sewell confirmed yesterday that the boy did not have a hunting license. Since 1977, all first-time hunters have been required to complete a weapons safety and training course before receiving their license. Basic hunting education courses are offered about 220 times a year and last about 10 hours, DNR officials said.

"We have 90 percent of our answers at this time," Sewell said of the investigation. "This is just an unspeakable tragedy that we really hate to see."

The boy's father had a hunting license and was using a muzzleloader about 30 feet away from his son when the accident occurred. Sewell said the father had been cited by DNR for a minor violation several years ago, but he did not elaborate.

While DNR officials would not say whether the father and son were wearing the required "blaze orange" safety clothing, a fluorescent hat - thought to be the father's - was found near the scene.

DNR officers staged a re-enactment of the accident yesterday to help determine what happened, and they are continuing to interview Christopher Mattison. They have not filed any charges but will share their findings with the Talbot County state's attorney's office when the investigation concludes - something Sewell described as a routine procedure. Police have not received the medical examiner's report.

Tyler Mattison was buried Wednesday. Family spokesman Mike K. Day Sr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association, declined to comment on the investigation. Day referred reporters to a family statement released this week that said that "Tyler possessed an uncanny ability to touch and warm those around him with his friendly disposition and winning smile."

While disabled hunters have used crossbows for close to 30 years, this season is the first that all hunters could use the weapon. DNR changed the rules in hopes of controlling the expanding deer population and conducted research and a public comment period before enacting the change for the start of bow season last month.

DNR education coordinator Vic Maccallum described the crossbow as "a combination between a firearm and a bow." It looks like a traditional bow mounted horizontally on a rifle stock, and it fires horizontally, releasing an arrow, called a bolt, when the trigger is pulled. It also has a safety lock, though DNR officials did not say whether Tyler Mattison had his lock on.

"There has never been an incident or an accident with a disabled person using a crossbow," Maccallum said, adding that the weapon is not hard to learn to use.

DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service Director Paul A. Peditto said the department had no intention of banning crossbows. There are more than 10,000 permitted crossbow users, and no evidence suggests that the weapon is more dangerous than other hunting weapons. Of the 15 archery-related deaths in the United States and Canada over the last nine years, he said, two involved a crossbow.

"This is a tragedy, but it's important to remember that it's an extreme case," Peditto said.

Sun staff writer Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

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