Cheney Hunting Companion Is Released From Hospital

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 18, 2006

CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex., Feb. 17 -- The Texas lawyer shot by Vice President Cheney during a hunting trip was discharged from a hospital Friday, and he described his ordeal as "a cloud of misfortune and sadness that is not easy to explain," saying he was sorry for all the vice president and his family had to go through.

With his face shrouded in bruises and scars on his eyelid and neck, Harry Whittington stood outside the Corpus Christi hospital where he spent the past six days and told reporters in a hoarse but clear voice that "accidents do and will happen."

"We all assume certain risks in what we do, in what activities we pursue," Whittington, 78, said in his first public statement since Cheney sprayed him in the face, neck and chest with birdshot last Saturday during a hunting trip at a ranch owned by the Armstrong family, prominent figures in Texas Republican politics.

Cheney, meanwhile, told the Wyoming legislature Friday that he had had a long week. "Thankfully, Harry Whittington is on the mend and doing well," Cheney said. Lawmakers in Cheney's home state gave him a standing ovation and 36 seconds of applause.

The Bush administration has been criticized because of Cheney's failure to publicly disclose Saturday's accident until the next day. Cheney waited for four days to comment, then told Fox News in an interview Wednesday that he took full responsibility for the shooting. "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend," Cheney said, calling the incident "one of the worst days of my life." On Thursday, President Bush said Cheney handled the situation "just fine."

Whittington's release came a day after the Kenedy County Sheriff's Department declared the shooting an accident that did not warrant charges. The report generally corroborated the account Cheney gave Fox News and the account that was first provided by Katharine Armstrong, who hosted the hunt and saw the shooting. All parties involved have insisted that people were not drinking on the shoot, although Cheney has acknowledged having a beer at lunch, about four hours before Whittington was wounded.

David Blanchard, chief of emergency care at the Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital, said Whittington, a prominent Texas Republican, was being released because of "his excellent health," but added that Whittington would not answer questions because "he is not 100 percent." Blanchard said the Austin lawyer was lucky to have survived the shooting.

Cheney has said he was standing 30 yards from Whittington when he fired. But hunters and firearms experts questioned whether birdshot from a 28-gauge shotgun, known as a "gentleman's gun" because the ammunition is expensive and the firearm is light, could have passed through Whittington's clothes and entered his thoracic cavity at such a distance.

Jim Wilson, the retired sheriff of Crockett County in West Texas and the handguns editor at Shooting Times, said that he doubted Whittington was that far from Cheney.

"At 30 yards that shot pattern is going to have spread quite a bit," he said. "You could put a person's eye out, but hitting a person's body, the shot won't penetrate very far."

Nonetheless, Wilson, like other hunters in Texas, said persistent questions about the accident reflected an ignorance of how investigations are conducted in Texas. Some have questioned why Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III waited until the morning after the shooting to interview Cheney and witnesses.

"I would have done the same thing as long as I felt warning bells hadn't gone off," Wilson said. "I wouldn't necessarily have run right out there. The local sheriff probably knew the ranchers well. That's just rural law enforcement."

Charles E. Soechting, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said that despite his party affiliation he is sympathetic to Cheney and his victim. Part of the problem, he said, is that many people do not understand that getting peppered with birdshot is fairly common among upland bird hunters.

"Hunting accidents like this happen on a fairly regular basis," he said. "A month ago, I was shot in the head quail hunting. I got three pellets, and every one of them hurt good."

And who shot Soechting? "A high-ranking law enforcement officer."

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