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A hiker and a hunter

A boy, 14, fires at what he thinks is a black bear. It wasn't.

August 14, 2008|Stuart Glascock | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — As she had so often before, Pamela Almli, 54, gathered her hiking gear and headed out with a friend for a day hike in the North Cascades. Familiar with the terrain, she felt at home on the trails.

On that same morning this month, two brothers, ages 14 and 16, set off on a hunting trip. Their grandfather dropped them off at a trailhead on Sauk Mountain near Rockport, Wash., in Skagit County, about 90 miles northeast of Seattle.

It was opening weekend of the black bear hunting season in Washington state. The boys were licensed hunters from the nearby town of Concrete. State law does not require adult supervision of juvenile hunters.

At about 10 a.m., the 14-year-old, who had taken a hunter safety class when he was 9, saw something he thought was a bear. He didn't use binoculars, only his rifle scope. From about 120 feet away he fired a single shot with his .270-caliber rifle. He thought he was taking down a black bear; instead he struck Almli in the head, killing her as she bent over to place something in her backpack.

Almli, from Oso, an unincorporated area of Snohomish County, had been on a marked hiking trial on federal land. Her friend and fellow hiker was a few steps away on the path.

William Almli, in a brief interview this week, said his wife "loved life and loved the outdoors."

"It should have never happened," he said. "[The hunters] did everything that you don't do. Anybody with common sense knows that you don't do the things that he did."

Hikers and hunters often share the same backwoods trails, but fatal hunting accidents involving nonhunters are rare.

This week, Skagit County prosecutors will charge the 14-year-old with first-degree manslaughter. If convicted, he could face nine months in juvenile detention. His older brother has not been charged.

At the time of the accident, it was foggy. Limited visibility of between 20 feet to 100 feet worsened the situation, said Rosemary Kaholokula, Skagit County chief deputy criminal prosecutor.

Nonetheless, prosecutors contend, the young hunter acted irresponsibly. "It is our belief that the boy was reckless in his actions," Kaholokula said this week, "and that recklessness is based at least in part on failure to abide by hunter safety guidelines."

Since the accident, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced a review of hunting regulations. Under study are closures to hunting on public lands and setting a minimum age for obtaining a hunting license.

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stuart.glascock@latimes.com

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