Police suspect hunter error in shooting of Qwest executive
Whoever shot and killed a top Colorado Qwest executive Saturday near New Castle may have violated a cardinal rule of hunting by failing to confirm the target before pulling the trigger.Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said investigators are leaning toward the possibility that another hunter who was trying to hit a wild turkey shot Jeff Garrett instead.”Just everything seems to line up that that’s what happened,” Vallario said Tuesday.The Colorado Bureau of Investigation will perform ballistics testing on the bullet that killed Garrett, Vallario said.”They’re going to make the bullet ballistics a priority,” he said.He said Joe Morales, executive director of the state Department of Public Safety, has offered whatever assistance CBI and other state agencies can provide in the case.”They’ve been wonderful,” Vallario said.Garrett, 37, of Aurora, was assistant vice president for Qwest in Colorado and a state lobbyist for the company. His body was found Saturday evening in the East Elk Creek area near New Castle after he split up with his two hunting companions earlier in the day and failed to meet back with them at the appointed time.While Garrett is a high-profile victim, Vallario said the CBI generally deals with shooting deaths as priorities because of the seriousness of such cases and the importance of moving the investigation along before it grows cold.Ballistics testing will narrow down what type of gun was used in the shootings. Vallario doesn’t consider Garrett’s hunting companions to be suspects, in part because he was hit by a small-caliber bullet. Hunters during Colorado’s spring turkey hunting season are required to hunt with shotguns. Garrett’s companions also had a .38-caliber gun, but that fires a larger bullet than what struck him.Vallario said investigators hope to go to the scene of the shooting later this week and try to reconstruct what occurred.Garrett died on Bureau of Land Management property around 8,000 feet in elevation. Vallario said Garrett was well-hidden where he was apparently hunting, and a scent dog came across him where searchers otherwise may have missed him. He was found about four hours after he was reported missing.Vallario said investigators are theorizing that Garrett, who was wearing camouflage clothes, was sitting in a hidden area and calling turkeys. Another hunter may have been fooled into firing at what turned out to be Garrett. The hunter might not have known Garrett was hit, or might have panicked and fled after discovering the mistake.Vallario said it would be best if the shooter “step forward now, and we’ll resolve this and try to deal with it.”The shooting theory would help explain the trajectory of the bullet, which struck Garrett’s upper chest and traveled downward at about a 45-degree angle. Garrett may have been bent over while calling for turkeys, Vallario said.Vallario said the bullet that killed Garrett apparently struck bone and changed course when it hit him, killing him when it hit his trachea. He said a pathologist on the case said Garrett might have lived had he gotten medical treatment, but Vallario believes the wound may have been more severe. He said there’s no indication Garrett moved after being shot.He said the theory still doesn’t explain why a turkey hunter would mistakenly shoot Garrett with something other than a shotgun. Apparently, some turkey hunting guns are designed so the hunter can choose between firing shotgun pellets and .22-caliber bullets, Vallario said. Whoever shot Garrett might have illegally fired the .22, but “that’s the least of their worries,” Vallario said.”This is all speculation, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.He said it’s his understanding that in other states where turkey hunting is more popular, such accidents are fairly common.Pat Tucker, area manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Glenwood Springs, said that’s probably true. The birds have good eyesight, so turkey hunters try to hide from them and don’t wear blaze orange.”That also makes it harder for a person in the area to see you as well,” Tucker said. “Everything is there, if a person was not as careful as they need to be, for an accident to occur.”He said one of the first rules of hunting is to be sure of the target before firing.Vallario was hoping the place where Garrett was hunting was a limited-license area. That would help investigators work with the DOW to determine who was licensed to hunt there.But Tucker said the area, which is outside his jurisdiction, is an unlimited spring turkey area. That means anyone in Colorado with a spring turkey hunting license would have been allowed to hunt there.Both Vallario and Tucker believe other turkey hunters besides Garrett and his partners were in the area at the time of his death.”We know there were more than just three guys up there,” Vallario said.Tucker said the state’s turkey population is expanding, and a lot of people are looking for springtime opportunities to hunt. Most of the areas around Glenwood offer only limited-license turkey hunting, so the unlimited-license hunting around New Castle attracts hunters.Indiana resident Jeff Beck, Garrett’s brother-in-law, said Garrett was involved in hunting and fishing even while growing up in Oklahoma, where his family had a farm. Beck said Garrett always hunted in a safe manner.He said Garrett was hunting Saturday with a longtime hunting companion and a friend of that man whom Beck didn’t know.While family members are anxious to learn how Garrett died, they already know the worst thing: that he’s gone and not coming back, Beck said.Garrett leaves behind his wife, Charlotte, and children Olivia, 3, and Adam, 1.Beck said Garrett had a “gift of bringing people together and engaging people.”He studied broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri and was president of the interfraternity council there. He went on to a job that involved visiting fraternity chapters around the country, Beck said. Garrett worked in public relations for Qwest and would be a chief contact between agencies using Qwest’s networks during major events such as presidential visits. He more recently began work as a Qwest lobbyist.Beck said he wasn’t surprised at Garrett’s rapid rise in the company. The same traits that helped him succeed at Qwest made him the glue within his family.”I think that’s why this is such a tragedy for the family, is because we’ve lost this connecting point,” he said.
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