A Wanaka man has today admitted a charge of causing the death of his best mate during a hunting accident.
Reuben Kenneth James Burke, 24, pleaded guilty in Queenstown District Court today (Monday) to a charge of careless use of a firearm causing the death of Dougal Fyfe on December 19 last year.
The court heard that the men – childhood friends – had been at a family Christmas barbeque in the Maungawera Valley, near Lake Hawea, with mate Ben Sutherland when the trio decided to go fishing and rabbit shooting.
On their way back to Sutherland’s property at about 1am, they thought they spotted a deer on Mt Burke Station. Using spotlights and head torches, the men followed the stag in Sutherland’s 4WD vehicle and Burke fired a few rounds of his semi-automatic rifle. They continued to follow the stag and Burke fired his rifle again, thinking the stag was shot in the heart.
Burke and Fyfe then both got out of the vehicle and pursued the stag on foot and headed towards a stand of manuka trees, where they thought the animal was. After seeing a single eye reflection resembling that of a deer, Burke called out to Fyfe to “cover his shot” but got no reply.
Burke thought Fyfe was behind him but Fyfe had actually walked into the manuka trees. Burke fired a single shot – thinking he’d got the stag in the head – but inadvertently shot Fyfe.
After firing, Burke shouted for his mate but got no reply. He went over to where he thought the stag was but found Fyfe on the ground, with a bullet wound in the back of his head.
Burke immediately ran back to Sutherland’s vehicle and the pair drove to Sutherland’s home to call an ambulance at 2.20am. Returning to the scene, it took some time for authorities to locate Fyfe’s body as Burke had trouble retracing his steps. Fyfe’s body was eventually located at 4am.
Prosecuting sergeant Ian Collin told the court that the trio had consumed a couple of beers at the barbeque but a subsequent breath alcohol test didn’t register a reading.
Burke held a current firearms licence but Fyfe and Sutherland didn’t. They didn’t have permission to be on Mt Burke Station for hunting at the time.
Judge Kevin Phillips called for reports into possible sentences of community or home detention but gave no indication that that would be the outcome. The maximum penalty for the charge is three years’ prison or a $4000 fine.
Burke, who travelled to Queenstown District Court with both his family and Fyfe’s family, will be sentenced on May 14.
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