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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Calling All Math/Hunting/Medical/Crime Scene Reconstruction Experts

Josh has picked up the question that Taylor was asking earlier today about pellet spread and distance of 30 yards, and takes it a step further. From TPM:
Would the weapon and ammunition Dick Cheney shot have the force to imbed pellets near Whittington's heart at 30 yards? A hunter wears a decent amount of clothing over the chest, remember. So these pellets would have to have pierced his clothing, his skin and then lodged inside the body cavity, somewhere near or around his heart. The shot came from the right and the heart is on the left so that might add to the amount of tissue needing to be traversed -- but without more specifics that's hard to know for sure. That takes a decent amount of force at 30 yards. Any thoughts from our TPM hunters and clinicians?
Hope Josh will forgive me for snagging an extended quote, but this is really something that has been bugging me as well.

As a prosecutor, I had the luxury of the State Police lab guys doing crime scene reconstruction for me, figuring out all the ballistics and physics involved in shooting incidents, determining distance between the victim and the shooter by evaluating spray pattern of the shot and a whole lot of additonal factors, you name it.

You wouldn't believe how much goes into this sort of scene reconstruction: WV has had one of the preeminant firearms and ballistics investigators in the nation for years (although he was, sadly, on the edge of retirement around the time that I was leaving work, so I'm not certain he's still on the job at the moment), a fellow who used to go to the FBI crime lab to train their new folks.

He taught me a lot about crime scene and evidence work, and although I pretty much always deferred to his analysis, I made him walk me through each calculation, each assumption, each piece of evidence in the chain for every case we worked on together so that I had a complete understanding of it myself. (You can't go forward with charges on someone that put them in jeopardy for life in prison without knowing all the facts, I always thought.)

And Josh is right: something just doesn't add up with the Dick Cheney story via Katherine Armstrong.

I know that once a pellet gets into the cardio-vascular system, because they are tiny and lightweight, they can travel. Given that Mr. Whittington was hit in the face, neck and chest -- a region that is fairly dense in terms of the number of arteries, veins and capillaries, many of which are close to the surface, especially in the neck. (Man, that is a bitch of a region to get shot, just based on all of the autopsy photos I've viewed in my day. Ergh.)

If any of our med. background readers have insights into this, I'd be very interested to know what your experience is with this. Especially given the fact that reports are that Whittington was hit with between 6 to 200 pellets (depending on your media outlet).

You have a 78 year old man, with a region that is full of blood vessels, riddled with little pieces of shot. And clearly at least one of them has gotten to his heart. Which can cause death of muscle tissue and all sorts of enzyme problems, as I recall, but I'm working from memory and sketchy news reports on this, so I would sure appreciate an expert take on what this means for the long-term -- and when you have at least one shot in a multiple-pellet incident, how likely is it that this is the last time there will be a problem?

Beyond that, Josh makes a great point about the distance, the amount of damage done, and the facts not quite adding up properly here.

Hunters usually wear camo jackets or other long-sleeved shirts that blend into the surrounding background. Over that, you'd wear a blaze orange vest, usually made of some medium-weight material, mainly because the lightweight ones tend to flutter in the wind. When you are hunting birds, especially quail which spook, you don't want some fluttering piece of fabric flowing out behind you.

It seems to me unlikely that a shot from a 28-gauge at 30 yards when the Veep is said to have been using 7 1/2 shot would make it all the way through two layers of clothes at the end of its effective target range. So either (a) they were much, much closer together or (b) the pellets are travelling, and given the estimates of pellets with which Whittington may have been hit that I've seen, that's bad news.

And that's another thing, for a 28-gauge to lodge that many pellets into Whittington from 30 yards just doesn't sound quite right to me. Anyone have thoughts or experience with this to give a better assessment?

Any thoughts from the folks in the comments on all of this would be most welcome.

I talked with my dad, the big hunter in the family, today, and he also had some questions:
Why weren't they hunting in a line?

Who was responsible for doing the guiding -- normally with these big money hunts, dad says they pay a professional guide to take them out -- unless the Armstrong's have a gamekeeper on the property and/or didn't bother having a guide with this party, since they had hunted on the property before.

Who taught Cheney he could shoot blind into the sun, especially at sunset? (My dad then gave me the same lecture about gun safety I've heard a billion times -- muzzle pointed away from anyone that could get hurt, no taking off the safety unless you are aware of every member of your party AND dogs, never, EVER shoot unless you are certain what is in front of you and that you have a specific target...)

Why wasn't Cheney treated like any other American would have been -- why keep the police away from him after the incident until the next morning?
And dad says most 28's that he's familiar with wouldn't take a load from regular shells that had 200 pellets in it -- so unless this was a special load, and he was really close up, some of the stories don't work. Curiouser and curiouser.

My dad is a big gun rights kind of guy, but the fact that Dick Cheney got special treatment from the local cops really pisses him off. And he says that, ultimately, you pull the trigger, you take responsibility for what happens with your shot.