Dad Who Killed Son in Turkey Hunt Charged

Boy's death is one of at least three wild-turkey hunting fatalities this spring.


May 7, 2008— -- When Minnesota authorities arrived at the scene, they found Anthony Klaseus covered in blood and extremely distraught.

"I just shot my boy," Klaseus said, according to police. "How could I shoot and kill my son? I told him to stay put while I tried to get closer to the turkeys."

On Monday, two weeks later, Sibley County prosecutors charged Klaseus, 39, with second-degree manslaughter in the April 19 homicide of his 8-year-old son.

Adding one more layer of cruelty, Klaseus and his wife had named their only son Hunter.

The boy's death is one of at least three fatalities already reported in this spring's turkey hunting season -- it's a number that often exceeds the total annual U.S. turkey-hunting related fatalities.

In West Virginia, authorities have charged a 19-year-old with misdemeanor negligence after he fatally shot a 16-year-old he mistook for a turkey during a hunt last week. The hunter could face additional charges.

On Sunday morning, a Kentucky father mistook his 14-year-old son for a game bird in what police for now have called a tragic accident.

In none of the three cases has it been suggested that the shooter intentionally killed the victim. In all of them, however, the hunters broke from basic safety protocol that could have prevented the accidents -- including the most basic rule of all.

"The utmost, unbreakable law of turkey hunting is that you always positively identify the target as the game animal you're trying to shoot," Tom Hughes, a biologist and safety instructor for the National Wild Turkey Foundation, told ABC News. "That's apparently where these hunters went wrong."

In Klaseus' case, his error could ultimately land him behind bars. In addition to the manslaughter charge, Klaseus faces charges including reckless discharge of a firearm, trespassing and turkey hunting without a license.

A statement of probable cause lays out the case against him. Authorities responded to a call about a hunting accident and found Hunter Klaseus dressed in camouflage and sprayed with shotgun pellets "throughout his torso and neck." His father, who had called 911, was frantic.

"I told him to stay put while I tried to get closer to the turkeys," he reportedly told authorities. "Then I heard something snap or break near me and a large figure rose up. I thought it was a turkey and I shot and it went down."

Klaseus told authorities that the boy, hooded in camouflage as he rose up in the high grass, looked like a male turkey fanning out. Evidence found at the scene, including a baseball hat and turkey call, indicated that the father was 20 to 30 yards from his son when he killed him, according to the statement. Minnesota hunting regulations state that only turkeys with a visible beard may be hunted in the spring season.

Klaseus quickly called 911, lifted the boy up and carried him across a field toward a road, according to the police document, stopping to perform CPR.

At the scene, police recovered a Remington 12-gauge with the safety in the firing position, a spent shell and three unused shells in the magazine.

Klaseus submitted to an alcohol breath test after authorities "noticed the odor of alcoholic beverage" and the hunter admitted to having one beer several hours earlier that day. The sheriff later performed a urine test as well.

The owner of the property where Klaseus was hunting, meanwhile, told authorities that he did not have permission to hunt on his property at the time of the accident.

On April 21, authorities executed a search warrant on Klaseus' 1999 Chevrolet Silverado and discovered in the bed of the pickup truck under a hardtop dozens of cans and empty and full bottles of beer. Inside the cab, they discovered a plastic bag with a lighter, a film canister and a small marijuana pipe crusted with residue that "had the distinct odor of burnt marijuana," according to the police statement.

On April 29, the results of the urine test came back and the results indicated an alcohol concentration of .05 grams per 67 milliliters of urine from a reading that took place three hours after the shooting. The urine test also found traces of marijuana, but could not show exactly how much of the drug was in his system, an amount the prosecutors expect to know in the "next few weeks."

The state's Department of Natural Resources confirmed to investigators that Klaseus had been drawn to receive a turkey licence but had not taken steps to purchase a license.

The state of Minnesota filed charges against Klaseus on Monday and summoned him to appear at a first court date May 22. A warrant was not issued for his arrest and he was not ordered held.

Paul Flanagan, Klaseus' defense attorney, declined an interview request on his client's behalf. Flanagan called the situation "tragic" for the entire Klaseus family.

"I can't imagine losing one of my kids," Flanagan said. "Whether it was an accident or anything else, I can't imagine the pain it would cause."

Flanagan urged the public not to "jump to conclusions" about his intoxication level simply because of the empty beer bottles and marijuana pipe found in the car.

"The main issue here is going to be whether it was an accident or a negligence," Flanagan said. "I'm not sure this would rise to the level of negligent."

Fatal hunting accidents are fairly rare in Minnesota. The state has had 21 fatalities -- including both two-party accidents and self-inflicted accidents -- in the last decade. Still, millions of hunting licenses to kill a variety of animals were issued during that period. There had not been a fatal turkey hunting accident in Minnesota in at least five years.

Hughes, of the turkey foundation, said that there are typically about three hunting accidents -- both fatal and nonfatal -- each year per 100,000 turkey hunters in the country. "It's really unusual to have this many in a three-week period," he said.

In one of the other cases, the Oldham County Police Department confirmed to ABC News that Sunday morning's fatal shooting of 14-year-old Steven Schmidthuber by his father, David, is being considered a tragic accident and will likely not result in criminal charges.

"We've been treating it as a horrible tragedy," said David Howley, a spokesman for the Oldham County Police Department. "All preliminary indications are that it was just an accident."

The father and son were hunting together on a private property in Kentucky at about 7 a.m. Sunday when they split up, officials say.The father reportedly noticed movement in the woods, thought it was a turkey, and fired his 12-gauge shotgun.

Hughes, from the wild turkey association, said that Schmidthuber broke another critical rule of turkey hunting by splitting up from his son.

Meanwhile, investigators for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources are considering additional charges against 19-year-old Andrew Hardin, who accidentally shot and killed fellow turkey hunter Nicholas Lee Caldwell, 16, on April 30 with a 12-gauge shotgun.

"The preliminary investigation is that it was a mistaken-for-game situation," Hoy Murphy, a department spokesman, told ABC News. "That's where the shooter mistakes another person for the animal he thinks he's shooting."

The department will hand its investigation to Kanawha County prosecutors, who will decide whether charges will be filed beyond the misdemeanor shooting.

The hunting accident took place around 8:30 a.m. April 29, but a frightened Hardin fled the scene. Authorities later found him and he reportedly confessed to killing Caldwell, who was found dead later that day. Hardin had completed a state-required education class that stresses identifying a target before firing.

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