CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas--Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a companion during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, spraying the fellow hunter in the face and chest with shotgun pellets. Harry Whittington, a millionaire attorney from Austin, was in stable condition in the intensive care unit of a Corpus Christi hospital on Sunday, according to Yvonne Wheeler, spokesperson for the Christus Spohn Health System.
The incident occurred Saturday at a ranch in south Texas where the vice president and two companions were hunting quail. It was not reported publicly by the vice president's office for nearly 24 hours, and then only after the incident was reported locally by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Katharine Armstrong, the ranch's owner, said Sunday that Cheney was using a 28-guage shotgun and that Whittington was about 30 yards away when he was hit in the cheek, neck and chest.
Each of the hunters were wearing bright orange vests at the time, Armstrong told reporters at the ranch about 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi. She said Whittington was "alert and doing fine."
Armstrong in an interview with The Associated Press said emergency personnel traveling with Cheney tended to Whittington before an ambulance -- routinely on call because of the vice president's presence -- took him to the hospital.
Cheney's spokesperson, Lea Anne McBride, said the vice president met with Whittington and his wife at the hospital on Sunday. Cheney "was pleased to see that he's doing fine and in good spirits," she said.
Armstrong said she was watching from a car while Cheney, Whittington and another hunter got out of the vehicle to shoot at a covey of quail.
Whittington shot a bird and went to look for it in the tall grass, while Cheney and the third hunter walked to another spot and discovered a second covey. Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong said.
"The vice president didn't see him," she continued. "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."
Whittington has been a private practice attorney in Austin since 1950 and has long been active in Texas Republican politics. He's been appointed to several state boards, including when then-Gov. George W. Bush named him to the Texas Funeral Service Commission.
McBride did not comment about why the vice president's office did not tell reporters about the accident until the next day. She referred the question to Armstrong, who could not be reached again Sunday evening.
Armstrong, owner of the Armstrong Ranch where the accident occurred, said Whittington was bleeding and Cheney was very apologetic.
"It broke the skin," she said of the shotgun pellets. "It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that."
"Fortunately, the vice president has got a lot of medical people around him and so they were right there and probably more cautious than we would have been," she said. "The vice president has got an ambulance on call, so the ambulance came."
Cheney is an avid hunter who makes annual hunting trips to South Dakota to hunt pheasants. He also travels frequently to Arkansas to hunt ducks.
Armstrong said Cheney is a longtime friend who comes to the ranch to hunt about once a year and is "a very safe sportsman." She said Whittington is a regular, too, but she thought it was the first time the two men hunted together.
"This is something that happens from time to time. You now, I've been peppered pretty well myself," said Armstrong.
The 50,000-acre Armstrong ranch has been in the influential south Texas family since the turn of the last century. Katharine is the daughter of Tobin Armstrong, a politically connected rancher who has been a guest at the White House and spent 48 years as director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He died in October. Cheney was among the dignitaries who attended his funeral.
-- The Associated Press