STARKS — A hunter whose firearm accidentally discharged and wounded a landowner during a dispute in 2012 over where the hunter’s group could hunt has agreed to pay the landowner in an out-of-court settlement.

Robert Pond, then 76, of Hartford, was hunting with a group of four other people, including his brother Burpey Pond, on Oct. 31, 2012, in Starks. Kerry Hebert, then 56, asked the group not to hunt near his home on Mount Hunger Road.

Hebert’s land wasn’t and still isn’t posted against hunting, but the high-profile case touched off questions in Maine about hunting and property rights.

The incident hurt both the Hebert family and hunters all over the state, according to the landowner’s lawyer, Daniel Kagan of Berman & Simmons law firm in Lewiston.

“What happened to Kerry is equally offensive to both hunters and non-hunters,” Kagan said in an interview Monday. “Non-hunters are offended and upset for perhaps an obvious reason — because it makes them fearful of something they don’t engage in themselves. But it’s also offensive to hunters and sportsmen because when an incident like this occurs, it creates bad publicity.”

The Hebert family hopes the settlement will highlight the importance of safety when hunting and using firearms, said Kagan, who refused to say how much money the settlement involved but said the family wanted “to make clear what happened to (Kerry) was unacceptable” and the settlement reflects that.

Hebert required several surgeries to recover, according to a press release Monday from Kagan’s law firm. Hebert sued Robert Pond for damages in Somerset County Superior Court, alleging that Pond acted “with negligence” by violating firearm safety rules, including carrying the loaded rifle with its safety off.

Pond could not be reached for comment Monday.

The case had been scheduled for a jury trial in December.

Kerry Hebert is a registered forester, so he spends a lot of time in the woods, Kagan said in the interview Monday. It’s “particularly important” to Hebert that others who use the woods, like hunters, do so in a safe way, he said.

While Kagan said Hebert still believes most hunters are responsible, “it’s hard to experience this without instilling some doubt or some fear.”

“This needless shooting, so close to the family home, shook the Heberts hard,” Kagan said in the press release.

The Ponds and Hebert argued before the shooting occurred, according to police interviews and reports obtained by the Morning Sentinel in Freedom of Access Act requests. Burpey Pond claimed to have lost three teeth during a scuffle with Hebert, and when Robert Pond intervened, his Remington .30-06 semi-automatic rifle discharged a bullet into Hebert’s side, breaking two ribs.

Police interviews revealed conflicting stories from those involved, according to previously published reports in the Morning Sentinel. Hebert claimed Burpey Pond “went ballistic” after being asked not to hunt near the house. Hebert told him to get off his property and pointed a finger at Burpey Pond, who he said lunged at him and bit it.

Hebert then punched Burpey Pond in the nose and told police he didn’t remember him losing any teeth or bleeding. After the scuffle, Hebert said Robert Pond came over and kicked him, and then the gun fired.

Hebert drove himself home and called 911. He was eventually taken to Central Maine Medical Center in a Lifeflight helicopter, where he underwent multiple surgeries.

Robert Pond claims he saw Hebert holding his brother in a headlock. When Robert Pond said that when he went over to help Burpey Pond, Hebert grabbed his rifle, causing it to fire.

Hebert denies grabbing the rifle. A report from the Maine Crime Lab at the time showed that DNA found on the side of the rifle matched Hebert’s, but no fingerprints were found to substantiate the idea that he grabbed the gun. Similarly, no trace of Burpey Pond’s blood or DNA was found on Hebert’s clothing despite the claim that he had knocked out Burpey Pond’s teeth.

Both Maine State Police and the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene, but no arrests were made.

Burpey Pond was charged with a hunting misdemeanor and paid a fine. In the police report, he was listed as a victim of aggravated assault, while Hebert was termed a victim of elevated aggravated assault.

After police received the conflicting stories, Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney had the case brought before a Somerset County grand jury. The jury, though, chose not to indict the Ponds or Hebert on charges in connection with the case.

Maine has a centuries-old tradition, beginning with the Great Ponds Act of the 1600s, that allows open access to private land for hunters and other sportsmen if that land is not posted. However, the state’s warden service recommends hunters check in with landowners before hunting on their private property.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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