ATLANTA - Republican gubernatorial hopeful John Oxendine said Wednesday that his 13-year-old son accidentally sprayed a 59-year-old bystander with about 30 shotgun pellets during a weekend hunting trip.
Oxendine, the state insurance commissioner, and his two teenage sons were in a five-person hunting party at a northwest Georgia quail preserve. The Walker County property is co-owned by an insurance executive who has donated money to Oxendine.
At about 4:15 p.m. Sunday, a quail was flushed from the brush and flew out and over the line of hunters. Four of the hunters fired at the bird. Russell Robertson Jr., of Chickamauga, was struck in the right leg by about 30 pellets, according to a report from the state Department of Natural Resources. Robertson was on the road about 30 yards behind the hunting party
Oxendine said Wednesday it was initially unclear who had struck Robertson, who was treated and released at Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome. An investigation by state officials identified the shooter as a 14-year-old juvenile. Oxendine confirmed the state was referring to his son but had misidentified his age.
A strong backer of gun rights, Oxendine said the accident had not changed his opinion about guns or hunting.
"Accidents happen," Oxendine said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Just because you have a car accident doesn't mean you don't drive anymore."
But he allowed that after the incident he might have his sons take a firearms safety course. He said they have both been taught to shoot by certified instructors.
"As any parent would, we're trying to learn from it and deal with it," the Duluth Republican said.
The Northwest Georgia Quail Preserve where the shooting took place is co-owned by Delos Yancey III, who is Chief executive officer of Rome-based State Mutual Insurance Co.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year 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.
The state Department of Natural Resources said the investigation into the shooting was continuing.
Neither Oxendine or his sons have hunting licenses but a state DNR spokeswoman, Robin Hill, said they did not need one on the property, which has a "blanket" permit allowing those on the property with permission to hunt.
Oxendine said he's been in contact with Robertson who he described as a "friend."
He said Robertson is recovering well and "wants to go back hunting with the boys."
Robertson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.