The 13-year-old stepson of Republican gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine shot and wounded a 59-year-old man Sunday while hunting on a North Georgia preserve owned by a prominent insurance executive with close political ties to Oxendine.
The victim was hit with 30 pellets in his right leg. Oxendine, the state’s insurance commissioner since 1995, was hunting with his teenage sons at the Northwest Georgia Quail Preserve, co-owned by Delos "Dee" Yancey III, who is CEO of State Mutual Insurance Co., based in Rome.
“I still believe in hunting and I still believe in guns,” Oxendine said Wednesday. “I still will hunt and my family will still hunt.”
On Tuesday, when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first learned of the shooting, Oxendine’s staff said only that Oxendine himself was not the shooter or the victim. Oxendine said Wednesday that he did not identify his son as the shooter because he wasn't sure until the DNR report came out. The report says four hunters fired at the same quail. Oxendine was positioned near his son at the time of the shooting.
A preliminary report from the Department of Natural Resources, obtained by the AJC, lists the victim as Russell M. Robertson, Jr., 59, of Chickamauga. Robertson could not be reached for comment. Oxendine said Robertson is "a longtime friend" and an employee of Walker County, where the shooting took place. According to the report, Oxendine's son shot Robertson about 4:15 p.m. Sunday when Oxendine and other members of his party flushed a quail. The bird flew over the party and toward a group of observers about 30 yards away. The report says the four hunters all fired at the bird.
The DNR report says a 14-year-old accidentally shot Robertson in the right leg, but does not name the boy. Late Wednesday afternoon, Oxendine's campaign confirmed to the AJC that one of his sons was the shooter. The Oxendine campaign said the boy is 13. Oxendine said his son has not had gun safety training.
After Robertson was blasted in the leg, one of the men drove Robertson to the Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome, were he was treated for pellet wounds. A DNR agent interviewed Robertson at the hospital. DNR is continuing its investigation.
Neither Oxendine nor his sons have hunting licenses, however state records show that the preserve has a blanket license that allows people to hunt without an individual license. DNR records show Oxendine, who has been an avid proponent of hunting and gun rights in his gubernatorial campaign, did not not have a hunting license until September 2008, which expired after a year, and DNR said he did not renew the license. Oxendine said he bought a dove hunting license last year, but for some reason is did not show up in DNR's database. He also said he has had hunting licenses in other states and all of his hunting in Georgia has been on preserves where individual licenses were not needed.
Asked if the shooting accident changed his view of guns or hunting, Oxendine said no. He said his son feels bad about shooting Robertson. Oxendine said his family spent Sunday and Monday relaxing at Yancey's preserve, but after his son shot Robertson, they didn't hunt.
“Accidents happen," he said. "I think it's simply a good object lesson. Hunter safety is a process...It's unfortunate."
Oxendine said he asked Yancey if he could hunt with him on his property. Yancey is a longtime donor to Oxendine's campaigns. Last May, The AJC reported that State Mutual Life Insurance and Admiral Life Insurance Company of America, both headed by Yancey, funneled $120,000 through a series of political action committees to Oxendine’s campaign in 2008. Oxendine denied any knowledge of the donations and returned the money. The State Ethics Commission is investigating.
Asked why he went hunting with Yancey, Oxendine said: “We're friends. I hunt with friends. I simply called him up and said ‘hey, what are you doing this weekend? You want to go shoot a couple of birds?' And he said, ‘Sure.' ”
Yancey did not return calls seeking comment.
Corporate records filed with the Georgia Secretary of State show that the preserve's office address is the same Rome post office box used by State Mutual Insurance Co.