Charge against boy's father is set aside in bow-hunting death

In exchange, man writes public statement to be used to promote safety

January 08, 2004|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

EASTON -- Prosecutors agreed yesterday to set aside a criminal charge of reckless endangerment against the father of a 10-year-old Baltimore County boy who was killed in a crossbow accident while deer hunting on the Eastern Shore last fall.

In exchange, Christopher Stephen Mattison composed a five-paragraph statement outlining the anguish and guilt he feels at the death of his son, Tyler, that will be used in public service announcements and hunter safety courses to caution parents who take their children hunting.

"We recognize that his son's death will punish him more than anything the criminal justice system ever could do," said Ellen Grunden, a Talbot County prosecutor. "But the state felt it necessary to charge him because there were so many things Mr. Mattison did incorrectly or failed to do."

According to court documents, Mattison, a 39-year-old surveyor from Perry Hall, had been drinking beer on the day his son died, and six empty cans were found in a backpack in his truck. State law prohibits anyone from carrying a weapon while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Investigators from the state's Department of Natural Resources Police also said Mattison told them that his son had never shot a crossbow. Because of Tyler's size, Mattison had to cock the weapon for the boy before he climbed onto a deer stand on private property near the town of Queen Anne at dusk on Oct. 25.

Charging documents say that neither Mattison nor his son used a "haul line" -- a common safety device -- to raise and lower their weapons. The crossbow the boy used was poorly maintained, and the arrow recovered from his body was not equipped with a "nock," a safety device designed to hold the arrow against the bow string.

Mattison told investigators he heard the crossbow go off as his son stood to begin climbing down from the stand. Tyler called to his father, "Help me, I shot myself," according to charging documents. The boy's chest was pierced by an arrow near his throat.

Paul Peditto, chief of the Department of Natural Resources wildlife and heritage division, said Tyler's death was the first bow-hunting fatality in Maryland in at least 30 years. National statistics, he said, show that accidents are extremely rare for bow hunters -- only five deaths in the United States and Canada since 1994, two of them caused by crossbows.

"When you look at data throughout time, almost every hunting accident is the result of a violation of the code of conduct taught by mentors or by hunting safety instructors," Peditto said.

Yesterday, Mattison, who was accompanied by his wife, Kim, and his attorney Joshua R. Treem, said little as visiting Kent County District Judge Floyd L. Parks asked if he understood the agreement in which his case was placed on an inactive docket. The arrangement means the charge against Mattison will likely be allowed to expire in three years, Grunden said.

In his statement, which was not read aloud in the courtroom, Mattison acknowledged his failure to enroll Tyler, who was a fifth-grader at Seven Oaks Elementary School, in a required hunter-safety course. Nor did the boy, who began hunting as a 7-year-old, ever acquire a hunting license.

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