Michael Wagner, the 48-year-old Libby man who critically wounded a Littleton, Colo., man while hunting near Libby Creek Road, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three misdemeanors in Lincoln County Justice Court.
The events leading up to the shooting is a story of violations in hunting protocol and guidelines that nearly cost one man his life and left another man devastated by the repercussions of his carelessness that led to that tragedy.
The day was Saturday, Nov. 16, and the bucks were in peak rut. For hunters, it figured to be the best weekend of the season to be in the woodlands, but for John Cleveland and Wagner, it was arguably the worst day of their lives.
Cleveland, 60, was staying at a cabin in the Libby Creek area south of town. The Littleton, Colo., man came to hunt the 909.75 acres his family owns on four plats on both sides of Libby Creek Road, just about 10 miles up from U.S. Highway 2. And for Wagner, this hunting trip represented a day of bonding with his son, Brian, as they pursued game in an area just miles from their Libby home.
Wagner was pursuing wounded game onto the Cleveland property when he mistakenly identified Cleveland for the wounded mule deer buck. Wagner shot the deer on the roadway and pursued it onto Cleveland’s property, reports the Sheriff’s Department. Wagner ignored no trespassing signs to pursue the game.
According to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department officials, Wagner fired the second shot that wounded Cleveland, on Cleveland’s land, from some distance away. The Sheriff’s Department report gives no indication that Wagner had any way of knowing the target in his cross-hairs was not the wounded deer. The deputy sheriff's report does not indicate any previous interaction between the men, but more a case of a hunter who mistakenly identified another hunter — one who was not wearing blaze orange — for wounded game.
Critically wounded from the gunshot, Cleveland applied a tourniquet he had in his backpack and received assistance from Wagner, after he approached, in tightening the tourniquet.
The Wagners then drove Cleveland to where they met an oncoming ambulance for transport to St. John's Lutheran Hospital for treatment.
Because of an ongoing Sheriff's Department investigation and pending charges, information has been slow to emerge. However, Wednesday morning, Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe issued the following statement:
“This has been an really tough few weeks for both men. One man nearly died and is still recovering in the hospital with a shattered leg, and another man is feeling devastated by his actions and probably wishes that day could be erased. This is a time when all hunters might consider reflecting on the inherent dangers of hunting season, and be reminded why the hunting safety regulations are so important.”
Cleveland has since been listed in stable condition.
The Western News is planning an updated story for Friday's editions.
Headline: Colorado man, 60, is stable after weekend hunting accident
Lincoln County Sheriff’s officials on Monday released the names of the two men involved in a hunting accident in the Libby Creek area Nov. 16 that left one man critically injured with a gunshot wound in his leg.
About 11 a.m., deputies responded to the accident in which Mike Wagner, 48, of Libby accidentally shot John Cleveland, 60, of Colorado in an upper thigh. Wagner, who did not know Cleveland, applied a tourniquet above the wound. The pair met an ambulance for transportation to Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Cleveland was originally listed in critical condition, but Lincoln County Undersheriff Brent Faulkner said Monday Cleveland’s condition had been upgraded to stable. Typically, a tourniquet is applied above severe wounds to slow bleeding. Quite often, the result of a tourniquet will sacrifice a limb. However, Cleveland has not lost the limb to amputation a result of the tourniquet application, Faulkner said.
Wagner drove Cleveland to meet an ambulance for initial treatment before he was taken to St. John’s Lutheran Hospital.
The near-term intent is to stabilize Cleveland enough to transfer him to a Colorado hospital for further medical care.
Faulkner said authorities still are investigating the shooting.
Headline: Hunting accident leaves man wounded
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department announced late Monday night that a 60-year-old man was injured in a hunting accident in the Libby Creek area and has been transported in critical condition to Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
The man’s name was withheld pending completion of an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Forest Service.
On Saturday, dispatch received a 911 call from a man reporting a hunting accident. The man who called said he was a hunter and that he had accidentally shot another man who was hunting in the area. He said he didn’t know the man who he had shot.
The caller applied a tourniquet above the wound and ran to get his son, who was hunting with him, for help and for a vehicle to transport the injured man. The caller drove the injured man to the first house that had telephone service to call for help. He then continued driving the injured man toward town until met by an ambulance.
The caller is a 48-year-old Libby man. He took authorities to the scene where the shooting occurred.
No further information was released as of press time.