Thursday, August 26, 2004

Suspect in killing hunting a skunk

The Associated Press

DANVILLE - A 78-year-old man charged with killing his next-door neighbor was hunting for a skunk but opened fire when he was startled by a riding lawn mower coming from behind him, his attorney said.

Jack Caldwell Sr. is charged with shooting neighbor Jim Trachsel on Sunday as Trachsel was moving his lawn.

Trachsel, 63, a retired elementary school principal, was shot five times with a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle found at the scene.

Caldwell was looking for the skunk in his garden and was startled by the mower as it came down a slope behind him, defense attorney Ephraim Helton said Tuesday.

"We're firmly convinced that this isn't a situation where a gentleman went out with the intent to harm his neighbor or to shoot anyone," Helton said.

Caldwell "believed he was about to be run over," Helton said. Police said that Caldwell told the first people to respond to the scene that he had fired in self-defense. However, defense attorneys said they are not alleging that Trachsel was trying to run over his neighbor.

Caldwell pleaded innocent Tuesday in Boyle County District Court. Caldwell, who is deaf in his right ear and blind in his right eye, appeared frail and had difficulty hearing at times.

After the arraignment, Caldwell returned to the Danville hospital, where he had been under guard since his Sunday arrest, for treatment of chest pains and a cut to his left arm.

A preliminary hearing was set for Monday.

Boyle County Attorney Richard Campbell, the prosecutor who will present evidence at that hearing, had no comment Tuesday on the defense attorney's theory of the case.

Neighbors and police have said Caldwell and Trachsel had a long-running property dispute.

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