Hunting dispute leaves 5 dead, 3 seriously injured
BY KEVIN HARTER AND TOM MAJESKI
Knight Ridder Newspapers
ST. PAUL, Minn. - (KRT) - Five people were fatally shot and three others seriously wounded around noon Sunday by a deer hunter from St. Paul after he was told to leave a deer stand on private land near Birchwood, a small community in northwest Wisconsin, Sawyer County authorities said.
The suspect, Chai Vang, was arrested about 5 p.m. local time, Sawyer County Chief Deputy Tim Zeigle said.
When Vang was arrested, he was carrying a high-powered SKS assault rifle and was out of ammunition, Zeigle said.
"Information is sketchy at this time," Zeigle said Sunday evening. "Many of the people we need to talk to are in the operating room."
One of the fatalities was female, authorities said.
The three injured hunters were taken to Lakeview Medical Center in Rice Lake. One of the injured was then airlifted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield.
Family members identified the two victims being treated at Lakeview Medical Center as Dennis Drew and Lauren Hesebeck. They said Drew had been shot in the abdomen and Hesebeck had been shot in the arm. Drew was in serious condition and Hesebeck was in fair condition.
A spokeswoman at the Marshfield hospital said Sunday evening that the adult male shooting victim brought there had not been taken to surgery and that she didn't yet have a condition report.
The shooting occurred near a deer shack on heavily wooded land about four miles east of Birchwood. The shack sits about a half-mile off Deer Lake Road just across from Deer Lake in the Township of Meteor in southwestern Sawyer County.
Described as prime deer hunting territory, the rolling land is covered with hardwoods, including poplar and birch.
Zeigle said two members of the hunting party were returning to their shack about noon when they spotted a hunter sitting in one of their deer stands. They told him that he was on private property and that he needed to leave.
Hunters must ask permission to hunt on private property. Authorities say trespassing is one of the most frequent violations during the deer season.
The trespasser was wearing camouflage except for an orange vest and the large deer hunting number that hunters are required to wear in Wisconsin.
Zeigle said a confrontation erupted and the man opened fire with his assault rifle.
One of the injured hunters used his walkie-talkie to alert his companions in the hunting shack that he had been shot, Zeigle said. When the other hunters emerged from the shack, the shooter began firing at them as well, he said.
In the meantime, one of the victims jotted down the deer hunting number the shooter was wearing.
Zeigle said members of the hunting party may have returned fire, "but this has not been confirmed."
The injured hunters tried to call for help, but there is no cell phone reception in this area of Wisconsin, so the men loaded one of the injured hunters into a pickup and drove to Ed's Pit Stop on Wisconsin 48 in Birchwood. They were met there by an ambulance, which transported the injured hunter to the Rice Lake hospital.
The number the injured hunter jotted down was then relayed to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which quickly identified the suspect as Vang, Zeigle said.
Authorities from Sawyer and surrounding counties began blocking off roads and searching the woods. Expecting that the search would last into the night, they called in K-9 units and helicopters equipped with infrared equipment.
In the meantime, Vang, who apparently had gotten lost in the woods, encountered two deer hunters, and they guided him to a nearby road. Once he was on the road, a nearby DNR officer spotted the number on Vang's back and arrested him without incident.
Vang is being held in the Sawyer County Jail.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sold nearly 640,000 deer licenses for this year's firearms deer season, which opened on Saturday. The season runs through Nov. 28. Minnesota accounts for the largest number of nonresident deer hunters in Wisconsin. This year, 15,374 firearms licenses were sold to Minnesota residents.
Wisconsin often is among the top five nationally in deer killed by hunters. The state is also among the top five nationally in number of deer hunters.
Semiautomatic rifles are legal and quite popular. Nearly all guns used in deer hunting are sporting arms. It's not common for hunters to use assault-style rifles because they're not often very accurate.
Local hunters were taken aback by the slayings.
"I'm shocked. Stuff like that doesn't happen in this area," said Birchwood hunter Dusty Bosteder.
Still, he did say hunters are protective of their favorite spots.
"Around this country," he said, "it has always been territorial."
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Shannon Prather, Alex Friedrich, Chris Niskanen and Tim Nelson contributed to this report.)
© 2004, St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.).
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