Probe continues after victim dies
Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 8:05 am
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
District Attorney General Tommy Thomas today characterized the shooting of Union City native John Burnett at a federal wildlife refuge at Reelfoot Lake Nov. 15 as “a tragic situation.”
Burnett died about 2 a.m. today at Regional Medical Center (The Med) in Memphis, where he had been taken for treatment after the shooting. He had undergone multiple surgeries.
Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder said Burnett was hit by a round fired from a high-powered rifle. The shot shattered his arm below the elbow, passed through it and penetrated the stomach area.
Thomas issued a formal statement about 10:30 a.m. today after meeting with Vastbinder and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agent Jeff Jackson.
Until Sunday evening, the case was investigated as a possible accidental shooting associated with deer hunting. Burnett’s death changed that.
Thomas said the incident was the subject of an investigation by Vastbinder, the TBI and unspecified federal authorities.
“Mr. Burnett was on the Long Point federal refuge at the time he was shot,” he said. “Because he was on the federal refuge, there’s also been an investigation by the federal authorities in this matter.”
He said he learned of Burnett’s unfortunate death and has asked for an autopsy of the body to determine the cause of death.
At this point, he said the investigation is continuing.
Thomas said they do have a suspect, but no charges have been filed against him. “I’m not going to divulge the name of the suspect, although I’m sure you’ve heard it. He’s not a juvenile; he’s not a minor,” he said.
Though not confirmed by the district attorney’s office, the suspected shooter has been identified as Ricky Richards of the Walnut Log area at Reelfoot Lake.
Thomas said it is his intent to present the findings of the autopsy and investigation to the February term of the Obion County Grand Jury, which meets Feb. 2.
“If the federal authorities decide to bring federal charges, I’ll have a discussion with federal authorities to determine whether we should go forward with our state investigation,” he said. “I don’t know if the feds will bring any charges or not. If they bring charges that arise out of the same facts that we are investigating, then we may be preempted from bringing any charges.”
John Brannon may be reached by e-mail at jbrannon@uc messenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 11.24.08