A private investigator from New Jersey is in serious condition Friday after being mistaken for a turkey and shot by the person he was investigating, according to Oneida County sheriff’s deputies.
When William Wehnke spotted what appeared to be a husky large-chested tom turkey coming across the cornfield near his Taberg residence Friday morning, he grabbed his shotgun and prepared to hunt the bird down.
In order to get closer to the suspected turkey, 50-year-old Wehnke crept through the woods alongside his residence on Briarwood Lane, according to Oneida County sheriff's deputies.
Suddenly, the turkey entered the wooded area.
Wehnke took aim, and fired.
Unfortunately, Wehnke never took the time to confirm that what he was shooting at was in fact a turkey, investigators said. Instead, Wehnke shot a 26-year-old private investigator from New Jersey named Matthew Brady.
Brady had been sent to the Mohawk Valley to investigate Wehnke concerning matters of worker's compensation, investigators said.
The shotgun blast hit Brady in the side of his body, his back and his legs, Investigator Richard Paul said. After undergoing surgery at St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Brady was listed in serious condition Friday afternoon.
“We thought it was certainly more suspicious to start with, and you can probably see why,” Undersheriff M. Peter Paravati said. “We have no reason to believe it was intentional at all, but it was certainly an odd situation.”
Brady had been dressed in dark clothing at the time and was crouching in the woods because he was conducting surveillance on Wehnke's residence, Paravati said. But it was later determined that Brady and Wehnke did not have any contact with each other prior to the shooting.
Brady did not realize that Wehnke had left his home, and Wehnke did not realize that a person had been on his property, Paravati said. And that's where the problem arose, he said.
“He was not careful when he fired the firearm, and he should have checked out his target,” Paravati said of Wehnke. “It boiled down to that, so you can see why it was not a hunting accident. The victim blended in real well, but you should be wearing yellow and red when you're in the woods.”
After being questioned by investigators, Wehnke was charged with felony second-degree assault for recklessly shooting a firearm, Paravati said.
Wehnke was arraigned in Floyd Town Court by Judge C. Clarkin and ordered to be held on $15,000 bail. He will return to court at a later date for further proceedings.
The investigation was conducted by the sheriff's Patrol Division, Criminal Investigation Unit, Forensic Identification Unit, and assisted by the New York State Police and Environmental Conservation Police.