Here is the story.
I met Ron Tietsort this summer when I was working in the Black Hills near Custer State Park. He was a game warden there. He showed me where and how to catch trout. It is a really small world. He is such a nice guy. My thoughts and prayers are with all those involved.
Farmer shoots hunter hiding in the decoys in South Dakota
Farmer recounts fatal shot
By Kevin Woster, Journal Staff Writer
MARTIN - Brad Johnson told his awful story late Tuesday afternoon, remembering in a soft, unsteady voice the rifle shot that took a stranger's life and changed his own forever.
"I have a lot of questions to God about why this thing had to happen," the 51-year-old Martin-area farmer said during a telephone interview from his home. "It's a terrible thing. It's a freak thing. To me, it's impossible that it could even happen."
But it did happen last Friday afternoon, in a blurred convergence of poor judgment and fickle chance that left 39-year-old Jay Torgerson of Custer lying in the Johnson family's grain field with a fatal bullet wound in his head.
As the investigation into the shooting continued Tuesday, Johnson admitted that he fired that fatal round, and another, at what he thought was a pesky flock of Canada geese ravaging rows of his millet crop that had been too wet to harvest. It's something farmers do, from time to time, to scare the hungry birds away from their grain, he said.
"I'm not trying to kill geese. I'm just trying to chase them off the field," Johnson said. "So I didn't really draw a bead. I just pointed over there and shot twice. And they didn't fly."
They didn't fly because they weren't geese. They were goose decoys that had been set out by Torgerson and his hunting buddy, Ron Tietsort. The two employees from Custer State Park were concealed among the decoys set on land that Johnson's father, Myron, had leased to the state Game, Fish & Parks Department for walk-in public hunting.
Torgerson was lying inside a large decoy manufactured to serve as an individual hunting blind, with narrow slits cut to watch for approaching geese. Tietsort was hidden nearby, lying on a sled used to pull the decoys into the field.
Johnson said he had no idea the men were there and saw nothing through his binoculars from a country road a quarter-mile away to tell him the dark shapes in the field were anything but live geese.
"I've seen a hundred (hunting) setups, and every now and then, you run into one where you're not sure, so you look with your binoculars, and there's always something there to tell you it's hunters," Johnson said.
"But by God, sir, I looked at that one, and there was no doubt in my mind that these were geese. I would have never shot at them if I thought they might not be."
When the shapes didn't fly after two shots, Johnson drove into the field to scare them off with his pickup. That's when he noticed a man hurrying away from the decoys and sped to catch up with him.
"I really gassed it. My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, I hope I didn't hit anybody,'" Johnson said. "Then I wanted to apologize all over myself for shooting at them."
Tietsort was highly agitated when Johnson caught up with him and told the farmer what had happened.
"The guy was kind of trotting. And when I got over to him, he said, ‘You shot my buddy in the head,'" Johnson said. "I said, ‘Bull****, no I didn't.' He said, ‘Yeah, you hit him in the head.' I said, ‘Jesus Christ Almighty.'"
Johnson didn't have a cell phone, so he drove Tietsort at high speed across the field to the pickup where Tietsort had a phone. Johnson said Tietsort called for help and also asked Johnson to hand over the rifle he used in the shooting.
Johnson said he refused and told Tietsort he would take the rifle himself to the home of GF&P conservation officer Tom Beck of Martin. Beck wasn't there, but his wife called for an ambulance, Johnson said.
When Johnson returned to the field, other law enforcement officers had arrived. And soon, an ambulance rushed Torgerson to Martin, where he was flown by helicopter to Rapid City Regional Hospital.
"He was breathing on his own when they left the field," Johnson said. "They said that was a good sign. I knew it would probably mess him up for life, but I was hoping. I was praying."
Torgerson died Sunday. And Johnson has been at the center of an investigation coordinated by the state Division of Criminal Investigation. Sara Rabern, a spokesman for South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long, identified Johnson on Tuesday as the shooter in the incident and said no arrests had been made.
She said investigators were still "sorting things out" and that she couldn't say when or if charges would be filed.
Emmett Keyser, assistant Wildlife Division director for GF&P in Pierre, said hungry geese often plague landowners with grain still in the field. Sometimes, propane cannons and other noise-makers can be used to help scare geese off, he said.
Keyser said it would be illegal to fire rifles at geese, even during the hunting season.
"Technically, I think hazing waterfowl like that is illegal," he said. "It's pretty clear that shooting into a flock with a rifle is illegal."
Such a violation would be a misdemeanor. But Johnson could face more serious charges, depending on the outcome of the investigation, Pennington County State's Attorney Glenn Brenner said Tuesday.
Depending on specifics in the case, an incident like this could bring a reckless killing charge, which would be second-degree manslaughter with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, Brenner said.
Beyond that, certain instances of killing with a dangerous weapon could carry the potential for a first-degree manslaughter charge with a maximum penalty of life in prison, Brenner said.
Brenner said he couldn't say for certain whether such charges would be appropriate in this instance without knowing more of the facts. State law allows some homicides to be declared excusable, even with a dangerous weapon involved, if they occur in a lawful activity where the person demonstrates usual and ordinary caution, Brenner said.
That's a decision typically reached in hunting accidents, he said.
But Johnson's actions in shooting into what he assumed was a flock of geese appeared to be illegal, and he was indeed using a dangerous weapon, apparently without exercising usual and ordinary caution, Brenner said.
"In a general sense, there could certainly be a case made for a reckless killing," Brenner said.
Brad Johnson said that since the incident, other farmers had told him that they had shot at geese to chase them from fields. In some instances, they, too, had shot at decoys, he said.
"One guy used a big deer rifle with a scope," he said.
Another person said he had left decoys out in his field and that they had been shot more than once, Johnson said.
Johnson said he thinks about the shooting and the seemingly impossible chance that one of two shots fired from so far away in a strong cross wind could hit such a small and terribly vulnerable spot.
Johnson was using an SKS 7.62x39-cal. rifle with open sights and no magnifying scope. The weapon is a popular rifle for target or varmint shooting and not generally used for big-game hunts.
"It's a total freak thing," Johnson said. "You could take that size target and shoot at it a thousand times and not hit it."
But Brenner said any rifle shot can beat the odds and kill.
"It's one thing to fire a scattergun, which only travels a hundred yards to so," Brenner said. "It's quite another thing with a rifle that can go out of sight and take a life."
Johnson said he hadn't thought much in the previous four days about facing criminal charges. He said an investigator indicated to him that such charges were unlikely.
Johnson spends less time wondering about that than he does trying to absorb the fact that he killed a man.
"That poor guy," he said as his voice grew hoarse. "I mean, those guys were out there having fun, you know. Then some stupid farmer's got to go and, geezus, it's just not fair."
Johnson said he had been isolated from news reports about the incident and was seeing a doctor and taking medication for depression. He also said he wasn't sure about the victim's name. Reminded that it was Jay Torgerson, that he was 39 and a Custer State Park employee, Johnson groaned and said "oh, no," and broke down briefly.
When asked if he wanted to say anything to Torgerson's family, Johnson wept as he spoke.
"They need to know that I'm terribly sorry for what happened," he said. "If I could take what days I have
whistlin_wings wrote:I grew up in a neighborhood with only 3 pools and a public golf course. Thug life is all I know.