Fatal Shooting Underscores Need to Wear 'Hunter Orange'

R.I. man kills son who took his fluorescent vest off

MONDAY, Dec. 10, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- A tragic shooting in Rhode Island over the weekend once again underscores why wearing a bright orange vest can prevent a hunter from becoming accidental prey.

A 43-year-old man shot his own son to death during a hunting expedition Saturday in the town of Foster, and authorities suspect the son was killed because he wasn't wearing the fluorescent vest required by law.

Jose Henriques of Cumberland fired a fatal shot into the chest of his 19-year-old son Derek, mistaking the young man for a deer the two men were stalking. Derek had stuffed his fluorescent orange safety vest under his clothes as he ventured onto private property to flush out the animal.

"We suspect the kid may have been trying to push the deer back towards his father," says Sgt. Michael Gawel of the Foster Police Department. "The kid took off his hunting vest and stuffed it underneath his sweatshirt as he was trying to track the deer that had wandered on private property. He should not have been on private property."

The Henriqueses were out for a day of hunting with two other people, Gawel says. When the accident happened, Derek was about 80 yards west of his father in the brush, Gawel says. The father told police he was "standing in a tree stand, and he said he heard a deer," Gawel says. The father, using a 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun, "took two shots, and one of the bullets struck his son in the right side of his chest," Gawel says. "The bullet exited on the left side of his chest and killed the child instantly."

Henriques, who became hysterical, was taken to Rhode Island Hospital, in Providence, for observation and released the next day, Gawel says.

It's the first fatal hunting accident in Rhode Island for as long as anyone can remember, Gawel says. "I've been here 18 years, and I can't remember one."

It's against the law to hunt on private property "without written permission of the owner of the property carried on your person," says Michael Scanlon, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which oversees hunting in the Ocean State. "And Rhode Island law also says you have to wear a minimum of 500 square inches of fluorescent orange, so that you're visible for 360 degrees."

Wearing at least 400 square inches of fluorescent orange when you're out hunting is the law in 46 of 50 states, with each state requiring different amounts of coverage, says David Knotts, executive vice president of the International Hunting Education Association (IHEA), in Wellington, Colo. "And in every state and Canadian province that has enacted what we call blaze hunting vest requirements, we have seen a significant decline in hunting incidents. And we know that hunter orange is probably one of the top one or two factors."

Knotts estimates there are 22 million hunters and shooters in the United States. According to IHEA, in 1999 there were 500 "two-party" hunting incidents in which one hunter wounded another. Forty-six of those were fatal, and in 14 of the deadly cases, the hunters were not wearing orange clothing.

Knotts says it's the "luminosity of the color orange that's the important thing." In tests going back to the 1970s, using time-lapse photography under certain light conditions, like early morning, "colors like yellow, bright red and white can look brown, gray or even black. The hunter orange color is not found in nature, and is immediately visible," Knotts says.

Knotts says most states also offer hunting education before you can get your hunting license. "It's mandated in 49 of the 50 states; in Alaska it's optional. Before a hunter can go hunting, before a hunter can get a license, they have to go through 10 to 12 hours of hunting education," Knotts says.

What To Do

Wear the vest if you're a hunter. In the woods, a person can easily be mistaken for an animal, especially if he's wearing natural colors.

For more on laws requiring hunter orange, see the IHEA. For other tips on safe hunting, visit the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

SOURCES: Interviews with Sgt. Michael Gawel, Foster, R.I., Police Department; Michael Scanlon, spokesman, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Providence; David Knotts, Ph.D., executive vice president, IHEA, Wellington, Colo.; Dec. 10, 2001, The Providence Journal
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