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Hunting death ruled 'tragic' but not crime; Authorities reveal result of investigation into fatal shooting of Sheridan fire chief

The shooting death of a rural fire chief by his father while deer hunting last December was a double tragedy, Chautauqua County authorities said Thursday.

In an afternoon news conference at the county's Emergency Services Office, the results of the investigation into the death of Jeffrey D. Roberts of Sheridan were revealed by authorities. No criminal charges have been filed.

Roberts, 33, died the afternoon of Dec. 3, while field-dressing a deer he shot in the Town of Stockton. He had been hunting with his 73-year-old father, William, and a third person, whose name hasn't been released.

According to Sheriff Joseph A. Gerace, Roberts had taken off his blaze orange hunting coat and was wearing black bib overhauls, with a tan camouflage shirt, when he was hit by a shot fired by his father just after sunset from some 100 yards away. It's believed the victim was crouching over the deer when he was shot in the chest.

Ballistic tests were performed on the firearms carried by all three members of the hunting party, Gerace said, and the fatal shot was traced to the 7 mm rifle used by the elder Roberts. The third hunter, who was elsewhere when the shooting occurred, had been carrying an unloaded shotgun and didn't hear the shot, the sheriff said.

Gerace described the death of the popular Sheridan fire chief and county Highway Department employee, who was married with two young children, as "a tragic hunting accident."

"My heart and prayers go out to the surviving family and the father. This has been nothing but difficult for everybody involved," the sheriff said. "Jeff Roberts was an extremely well-respected public servant."

District Attorney David Foley said the elder Roberts has been cooperative with investigators but has been unable to recall the event.

It's believed the elder Roberts is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, authorities said. He is also said to be in poor health, unrelated to his son's death.

"I concur with the sheriff's assessment that this appears to be a tragic accident. At this time, no charges have been filed," Foley said.

"We have had numerous conversations with Chief Roberts' wife and his mother," the district attorney continued. "They understand the situation."

On that early December day, sunset was at 4:42 p.m. The victim's father reported the shooting at 5:23.

By the time emergency personnel reached the scene, it was dark, the sheriff said.

"Based on the investigation, it appears that the shot was fired after five o'clock, so that would be after legal hunting hours," said Lt. Frank S. Lauricella, a supervising officer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Law Enforcement.

However, "There will be no charges by the DEC," Lauricella said.

Safety is paramount when you're out in the fields, Lauricella said. "Once the projectile goes down range, you can't call it back," he said.

Foley noted the importance of hunters wearing orange clothing for visibility.

"It's a double tragedy. It's something that didn't need to happen," he said.

email: jhabuda@buffnews.com