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Monday February 13, 2006

Dick Cheney accidentally shoots fellow hunter in Texas


CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP): Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a 78-year-old hunting companion during a weekend quail hunting trip after the man went to retrieve a bird and Cheney failed to spot him. 

Harry Whittington, an Austin attorney, was in stable condition late Sunday in the intensive care unit at a Corpus Christi hospital, where he was flown after the shooting late Saturday afternoon at the Armstrong Ranch. 

The vice president visited with Whittington and his wife before returning to Washington on Sunday. Cheney "was pleased to see that he's doing fine and in good spirits,'' said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride. 

Whittington sent word through a hospital official that he would have no comment on the incident out of respect for Cheney. 

Katharine Armstrong, the ranch's owner, told The Associated Press that the accident occurred after Cheney, Whittington and another hunter got out of a car to shoot at a covey of quail. 

She said Whittington went to retrieve a bird he shot. Cheney and the third hunter, whom she would not identify, walked to another spot and discovered a second covey of quail. 

Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself,'' said Armstrong, who was in the car. 

"The vice president didn't see him,'' she said. "The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good.'' 

Armstrong said the shotgun pellets broke the skin. 

"It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that,'' she said. 

The accident was not reported publicly by the vice president's office for nearly 24 hours, and then only after it was reported by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times on its Web site Sunday. 

McBride said the vice president's office did not tell reporters about the accident Saturday because they were deferring to Armstrong to handle the announcement of what happened on her property. 

Armstrong said everyone at the ranch was so "focused'' on Whittington's health Saturday that it wasn't until Sunday she called the Caller-Times to report the accident. Her ranch is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Corpus Christi. 

Sally Whittington told The Dallas Morning News her father was being observed because of swelling from some of the welts on his neck. His face "looks like chicken pox, kind of,'' she said. 

Emergency personnel traveling with Cheney tended to Whittington before he was taken first to a hospital in Kingsville and then transferred to Corpus Christi. 

Whittington has been a private practice attorney in Austin since 1950 and has long been active in Texas Republican politics. He's been appointed to several state boards, including when then-Gov. George W. Bush named him to the Texas Funeral Service Commission. 

Armstrong said Cheney is a longtime friend who comes to the ranch to hunt about once a year and is "a very safe sportsman.'' She said Whittington is a regular, too, but she thought it was the first time the two men hunted together. 

The 50,000-acre (20,000-hectare) Armstrong ranch has been in the influential South Texas family since the turn of the last century. Katharine is the daughter of Tobin Armstrong, a politically connected rancher who has been a guest at the White House and spent 48 years as director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He died in October. Cheney was among the dignitaries who attended his funeral. 

Cheney was legally hunting with a license he purchased in November, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said.

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