MAYVILLE - The father of the late Sheridan Fire Chief Jeffery Roberts was responsible for the shot that killed his son during a hunting outing last year, Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace and District Attorney David Foley announced at a press conference Thursday.
Roberts, 33, was hunting with his father, William Roberts, 73, and another unidentified individual on Dec. 3 when he suffered a fatal single gunshot wound to the chest.
"At the scene deputies seized the weapons from the victim and the two other members of his hunting party. Ballistic examination of the bullet recovered from Mr. Roberts was consistent with having been fired from the gun carried by William Roberts, who was the father of the victim," Gerace said. "Our investigation has determined this was a tragic hunting accident."
Press Conference for Jeffery Roberts shooting
Prior to the shooting, authorities believed Jeffery Roberts was crouched over, field-dressing a deer he had previously shot. According to authorities he had removed his blaze orange hunting jacket and was wearing black bib overalls with a tan camouflaged colored shirt.
The fatal shot came from a Winchester 7mm rifle from approximately 100 yards away. The investigation found the shot came after 5 p.m. while the sun had set at 4:42 p.m. that day. The Sheriff's Office received the report of the shooting at 5:23 p.m. that was placed by William Roberts.
"Based on the investigation it appears the shot was fired after 5 o'clock so that would be after legal hunting hours, so based on the time of day there is still daylight but hunting hours are closed," Lt. Frank Lauricella, DEC Law Enforcement Department said.
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
William Roberts is said to have fired the fatal shot killing Sheridan Fire Chief Jeffery Roberts last year. The announcement was made Thursday by the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices. Pictured, from left: Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace, Lt. Frank Lauricella, DEC Department of Law Enforcement and District Attorney David Foley.
According to Lauricella, there are laws that prohibit hunting after sundown. While it was after posted hunting hours, Foley believes the shot was taken while there was daylight left.
"If it had been completely dark, I doubt any shot would have been fired. We believed there had to be some light although it was after the sun had gone down," he said.
By the time first responders arrived on scene, the area was dark. Roberts and his hunting party had been hunting in a field area with rough terrain including a body of water that had to be navigated around in order to reach Roberts.
It's unclear why Roberts removed his orange safety jacket but according to Gerace it's not necessarily unusual to take off coats during field-dressing. Coats can be used to protect a hunter's gun from moisture on the ground.
Foley's office has been involved with the investigation and said no charges will be filed at this time.
"I concur with the Sheriff's assessment that this appears to be a tragic accident," Foley said. "At this time, no charges have been filed; however, nothing prevents future action should further information develop.
"Mr. Roberts Sr., has been cooperative in the investigation but however, due to what we perceive as similar to some post traumatic stress disorder potentially, has been unable to recall the event and therefore although cooperative has not been able to provide us much information at all," Foley said.
According to authorities, William Roberts is "seriously ill" which is unrelated to the accident, Foley said. The family of Jeffery Roberts, particularly his wife and mother, "support the determinations we have made to date," Foley said.
Gerace expressed his condolences for the family of the late Jeffery Roberts.
"My heart and prayers go out to the surviving family and the father. This has been nothing but difficult for everybody involved. It's a tragic loss to our community. Jeff Roberts was an extremely well respected public servant."
This is the first hunting season that rifles have been legal for deer season in Chautauqua County. The new law allows hunters to use rifles south of Route 20. Jeffery Roberts was hunting near Route 60 and Luce Road in the town of Stockton near the Cassadaga rest area. The shot that killed him could have come from a shotgun and still have been fatal, authorities have said.
County Legislator Robert Duff has been opposed to the rifle law in Chautauqua County from the beginning.
"What a rifle can do in a second ... one shot the bullet can travel 2,700 feet in that one second," Duff said. "They're not toys. They definitely should have not been brought into Chautauqua County."
Duff believes a change in the rifle law is required immediately and not in 2013 when the law is up for review by the county legislature.
This is not the first incident where a rifle has been used in a hunting accident. A hunter was charged in Randolph after hitting a school bus in November. William Squire, 59, of Conewango fired from a tree stand and the bullet traveled 500 yards before hitting a bus carrying 35 students and a driver. No one was hurt.
Lauricella stressed the safety that hunters should use while hunting. Firearm safety is important including target identification and knowing your target.
"Once the projectile goes downrange you cannot call it back," Lauricella said.
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