VP Cheney accidentally shoots fellow hunter

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    CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A 78-year-old hunting companion of Vice President Dick Cheney was recovering in stable condition Monday after Cheney accidentally shot him during a weekend quail hunting trip, a hospital official said.

    Harry Whittington "rested well last night," said Peter Banko, hospital administrator at Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial. The hospital listed Whittington's condition as "very stable," he said.

    Whittington, an Austin attorney, was flown to the hospital after Cheney accidentally shot him with birdshot Saturday at the Armstrong Ranch.

    "It's not critical. It's not serious," Banko said at a morning briefing. He said admitting Whittington to the trauma-intensive care unit was "a fairly common procedure" for a patient hit by a spray of the small pellets.

    "I don't know how much spray he has got," Banko said. "My understanding from the physicians is that after you get peppered, sometimes they need to do exploratory surgeries if it gets lodged in a little deeper. Sometimes it's tweezers."

    Banko said he did not know when Whittington would be released.

    No charges had been filed and reports on the incident were still pending Monday, said Sandra Guzman, secretary for Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III.

    The local prosecutor's office had not been contacted, said Carlos Valdez, district attorney for a three-county district that includes Nueces, Kleberg and Kenedy counties. He said his office would become involved only if an investigative agency found a hint of criminal wrongdoing or a dispute about the facts.

    The accident was not reported publicly by the vice president's office for nearly 24 hours, and then only after the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported it Sunday.

    Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said the vice president's office did not tell reporters about the accident Saturday because they were deferring to the ranch owner to announce what happened on her property.

    Hunting parties are not required to report accidents, said state Parks and Wildlife spokesman Tom Harvey. The state penal code requires people to report fatalities, which would be investigated by law enforcement.

    Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday that Bush and senior aides were told Saturday night by the staff of the White House Situation Room that somebody in the Cheney's hunting party was shot, but he said he was not told until Sunday morning that Cheney was the shooter. He said he contacted the vice president's office about making the information public.

    The vice president visited Whittington and his wife before returning to Washington on Sunday. Cheney "was pleased to see that he's doing fine and in good spirits," said McBride said.

    Whittington told a hospital official he would not comment.

    Ranch owner Katharine Armstrong said each hunter was wearing a bright orange vest, and Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said Cheney had a valid hunting license obtained in November.

    Armstrong told The Associated Press the vice president was using a 28-gauge shotgun, and Whittington was about 30 yards away.

    Armstrong said Whittington went to retrieve a bird he shot while Cheney and a third hunter, whom she would not identify, walked to another spot and discovered a second covey of quail.

    Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," said Armstrong.

    "The vice president didn't see him," she said. "The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good."

    She said the pellets missed Whittington's eyes and he remained conscious.

    Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in Washington and Paul J. Weber in Dallas contributed to this report.

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