November 27th, 2020

Hefty fines for shooting grizzly

By Shurtz, Delon on October 20, 2020.

Delon Shurtz

Lethbridge Herald

Max Krekhovetski has replayed over and over again in his head the nightmarish hunting trip he took two years ago.

As a new hunter, Krekhovetski shot his first whitetail deer during the hunting trip west of Claresholm. He excitedly brought it back to camp and hung it next to a deer already hanging high on a meat pole about 50 metres away.

During the night a grizzly bear tore off a chunk of the first deer, and hauled down Krekhovetski’s deer and dragged it into the bush.

It wasn’t long after when the nightmare began.

One of two men with whom Krekhovetski was hunting shot and killed the bear the following night, and assaulted Krekhovetski when he threatened to report the unlawful shooting to authorities.

“I was left extremely traumatized by the assault,” Krekhovetski said Friday in Lethbridge provincial court, during a sentencing hearing for fellow hunters Jeffrey Edison Hambrook and Gary Edgar Gilson.

“To say that my life has flashed before my eyes is an understatement. What made it really scary for me was the fear that the assailants were driven by.”

Hambrook pleaded guilty Jan. 6 in Fort Macleod provincial court to a charge under the Wildlife Act of hunting out of season – as a protected species there is no hunting season for grizzly bears – and to charges under the Criminal Code of assault and uttering threats in relation to property. Gilson pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of wildlife, theft under $5,000 and uttering threats in relation to property.

The Crown had recommended fines and short jail sentences for the men, and although their lawyers agreed fines would be appropriate for the Wildlife Act offences, they suggested jail is not warranted for the Criminal Code offences and the hunters should receive a conditional discharge.

Calgary lawyer Paul Brunnen said Hambrook, 38, is an “extremely good citizen” who acted out of character.

“(Hambrook) is a good individual who did a very foolish thing in the heat of the moment,” Brunnen said. “My client is very embarrassed and very remorseful.”

The men were camping at a designated campsite Nov. 2, 2018 when Krekhovetski of Calgary shot the whitetail deer.

That night the bear dragged the deer into the woods, but the hunter found his deer the next morning, dragged it back to camp and hung it higher on the meat pole.

About 7:40 that evening, a light was activated by a motion sensor, and trail cameras caught the bear trying to get at the meat. At 10 p.m. the bear returned, but Hambrook and Gilson were hiding nearby. Shortly afterward Hambrook shot and killed the bear, and in response to a query by Krekhovetski, claimed he only fired a warning shot.

However, the next morning Krekhovetski found the grizzly bear, took a picture of it, then began arguing with Hambrook while taking pictures of vehicle licence plates. While taking pictures of Gilson’s licence plate, Krekhovetski and Hambrook began fighting and Hambrook pinned Krekhovetski to the ground. When Krekhovetski refused to delete the photos from his cellphone Gilson took it from his pocket.

Gilson, who was holding an axe, threatened to smash the phone unless Krekhovetski gave him the password to access the phone. After other campers yelled for them to stop, Hambrook got off Krekhovetski and his phone was eventually returned to him. The next day, after he returned to his home in Calgary, Krekhovetski reported the incident.

Hambrook, Gilson and one other hunter, Jack Murphy, loaded the bear on a trailer and hid it in the woods a short distance away. When a Fish and Wildlife officer arrived to investigate the shooting, Murphy directed him to the hiding spot.

Defence suggested Friday that Krekhovetski should shoulder some of the blame for hauling his deer carcass back to the meat pole after he was advised against it. Brunnen also downplayed the assault and said Hambrook and Krekhovetski simply wrestled each other to the ground and Hambrook sat on him.

Brunnen said the hunters eventually apologized to each other and even shared a “Kumbaya moment,” as they sat around a fire and discussed the incident. And Hambrook, Brunnen said, hasn’t hunted for two years.

Gilson’s lawyer, Jim Lutz, told court charges of uttering threats, even egregious ones, rarely attract anything more than a fine, and he suggested a conditional discharge in this case would not be contrary to the public interest.

Crown Prosecutor Michael Fox argued the hunters should not only face high fines, but a jail sentence between three and four months. He said the bear didn’t pose any threat to hunters, and the animal was shot at night, which showed a disregard for the safety of others in the area.

Fox pointed out warning shots are normally fired in the air, not toward the ground, and when the bear was discovered, it was hidden and left to rot.

The subsequent assault on Krekhovetski for fear he would report the shooting to authorities is also serious, Fox stressed, and was not a “matter of impulse.”

“They didn’t have to do what they did,” Fox said. “They knew what they were doing.”

Krekhovetski consoled himself by believing the incident was spur-of-the-moment and everyone felt badly afterward. That changed, however, after his “assailants” returned to hunt the following weekend, and he began to fear for his life. He told court he drives a different vehicle, spends less time in Calgary, and avoids going out in public as much as possible.

“I have kept a low profile on social media and avoid leaving any clues to my whereabouts,” he added.

Judge Eric Peterson handed both men a one-year conditional discharge and prohibited them from hunting for three years. A conditional discharge is an order whereby an offender will not be sentenced for an offence unless a further offence is committed within the period of the discharge. Once that period has elapsed, the conviction is removed from the record.

Hambrook was also fined $12,000 for shooting the bear, while Gilson was fined $10,000 for unlawful possession of wildlife. Both men were given nine months to pay their fines.

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