STARKS — Kerry Hebert is recovering from surgery at a Lewiston hospital Thursday after being shot at close range in a dispute with hunters on his land the day before.
“He came out of surgery OK and the prognosis is very good but it’s going to be a long road to recovery,” Hebert’s wife Jenn, who is also the town clerk, said late Thursday.
She didn’t want to talk about the shooting, but said that her 56-year-old husband had also told family friend Erin Norton about it at the hospital Wednesday.
Norton said Hebert told her he was shot once in the abdomen from a .30-06 caliber rifle. The bullet went through his body, leaving a three-inch wound in his back.
“The bullet did not penetrate any major organs,” Norton said Thursday at the Hebert home. “It went in and out — it did go all the way through.”
Hebert told Norton he was unarmed at the time.
Chief Deputy Dale Lancaster of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department on Thursday said police have identified the shooter, but would offer no other details. He said no one has been charged.
“It’s not clear cut,” he said. “It was a group of hunters and a homeowner, although this is not a hunting accident. This is more of a dispute between individuals.”
Lancaster said there are different versions of what unfolded and the investigation could take a few of weeks to complete. He said forensic evidence has been collected from the scene and sent to the state police crime lab in Augusta.
“Today we were back at the scene to collect a little more evidence,” he said late Thursday afternoon. “We’re still evaluating and reviewing statements. There still are interviews to be completed.”
According to Norton, Hebert said he confronted a group of four or five hunters while he was driving home from dropping his wife off at a Halloween party at the Town Office around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
She said he stopped and talked to one hunter on Mount Hunger Road, a dirt road that serves as the driveway to the Hebert home, the only house on the street.
Hebert told Norton that everything was friendly at first and that the hunters said they had shot a deer.
“He rolled down the window of his car and just asked them to please be careful. Kerry spoke cordially and introduced himself. Everything was friendly,” she said. “They have pets and young kids. He never told them they could not hunt. He just said they were too close to the house and could they please be careful.”
Hebert continued up Mount Hunger Road, then stopped to talk to another hunter, according to Norton.
Norton said she doesn’t know what prompted it, but Hebert “got out of the car and asked them to leave his property.”
According to Hebert, one man said he had hunted on the land for 25 years, then started hitting Hebert in the stomach with the butt of his rifle.
Then the gun went off, she said.
She said that after Hebert was shot, he stepped back and said, “You shot me.”
The man said, “No I didn’t.”
Norton said Hebert “got on his feet, got back in his vehicle and drove himself up to his house and called 911 himself.” She said the house is about 700 or 800 feet from the end of the road.
The seat of the van was soaked in blood Thursday.
Jenn Hebert said that people hunt in the area frequently.
“The issue is not that we are anti-hunting. The issue is that they were too close to our house and weren’t hunting responsibly,” she said.
Detective Mathew Cunningham of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department said the Heberts own about 140 acres, a vast, sparsely populated region of bogs and scrub trees three miles from any paved road.
The land is not posted against hunting, he said, which makes it legal to hunt there.
“However, if the property owner indicates he does not want you on the property, you have to leave, whether it is posted or not,” he said. “It’s always a good idea to get permission from the land owner to hunt on it.”
He said the hunters had not requested permission to hunt on Hebert’s land.
It is unlawful to discharge a firearm within 100 yards of a home in Maine without permission from the owner or occupant. The hunting party Wednesday was more than 200 yards from the Hebert home.
A LifeFlight of Maine helicopter took Hebert from Madison Area Memorial High School to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Wednesday.
Hebert is a former member of the Starks Planning Board and was active in the secession of the town from Madison-based School Administrative District 59.