Police weigh up evidence in hunting tragedy

By Abby Gillies

Victim James Dodds. Photo / Supplied
Victim James Dodds. Photo / Supplied

Police won't yet say whether charges will be laid over the accidental shooting of a hunter near Rotorua.

The body of 30-year-old James Dodds was winched from the bush in the Waikite Valley this morning.

Rotorua's police commander Inspector Bruce Horne said a scene examination had been carried out, but forensic testing of the firearms involved still needs to take place.

"We'll complete our investigation. Once that's done the case will be referred to the coroner, possibly to Crown Law Office and then a decision will be made after that."

Mr Dodds was fatally wounded while deer-hunting with friend Henry Worsp about 30km south of Rotorua.

Friends and family of the men involved are supporting each other as they deal with the shock of the incident and say they hold no animosity.

In a statement, Mr Dodds' friend Gary Sullivan and his friend and business partner Jeff Carter said the impact of his death was still sinking in.

"The two families involved in this tragedy both know each other well and are supporting one another. There is no animosity held.

"We will all get through this together with the support of family and close friends," said the statement.

The men are well liked and well respected in the mountain biking and outdoor community both locally and internationally, they said.

Mr Dodds' family are travelling back to New Zealand from overseas.

Just before 8am yesterday, a distressed Mr Worsp, an experienced hunter and fisherman with more than 10 years' experience managing outdoor safety, dashed to a high point to get cellphone coverage and alerted police.

Mr Horne, said last night that the shooting appeared to be accidental "and another tragic reminder of the absolute necessity for hunters to properly identify their target before they shoot".

Search and Rescue staff and a rescue helicopter were given a brief window in the poor weather this morning to winch Mr Dodds' body out at 8.15am.

Staff involved described it as a difficult operation which took place in dense bush and steep terrain.

The body was flown to Rotorua Hospital and would be transported to Auckland later today where a post-mortem examination would be carried out.

"We have completed our scene examination, but our CIB staff still have a lot work ahead of them before the investigation can be completed," said Inspector Horne.

The firearms involved and some other items would require forensic testing, he said.

Police would spend the next few days reviewing all of the evidence - including information from witnesses and the outcome of the post-mortem examination - to reconstruct the event and develop a full understanding of what occurred.

"Our investigation will be thorough and will take some time. It is important to approach these cases with an open mind and make decisions based on the evidence. The police investigation will help inform the coronial process.

"This case is an absolute tragedy and all of the families involved are suffering a most awful grief."

Mr Dodds' death is New Zealand's third hunting death this year.

Cam McDonald, 29, was shot dead by another hunter in Aorangi Forest Park, Wairarapa, on April 7.

A few weeks later, 26-year-old Southlander Mark Richard Vanderley was killed by another man in his hunting group while spotlighting for deer.

Of the 12 hunting-related deaths between 2002 and last year, 10 were caused by someone in the same hunting party.

All had been avoidable, said the Mountain Safety Council's firearms and safety manager, Mike Spray, and if every hunter followed the basic rules of firearm safety, the figure could be reduced to zero.


- Newstalk ZB

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