Donald Rogerson interview

Posted Nov. 14, 2008, at 6:40 p.m.

BDN: We talked about it on the phone just a few minutes ago. The effect that this incident has had – you mentioned that it had an effect on you, but maybe more so on your family. Could you talk about that a little. Of what kind of effect it has had.

Donald Rogerson: I know my youngest son was in fifth grade, fourth grade, John, he was in eighth grade. I think probably it affected him more than the others. The school dealt with it very well and everything, and I think for that reason, I think he’d like to think he could go hunting and be like his grandfather and his father.

I was from a family, like yourself, I grew up in the woods and we had camps and it was a big part of our family life. I just feel that it probably affected him more because he doesn’t have the desire, I don’t think, to hunt. And my other son, he hunts, but he hasn’t hunted with the enthusiasm that he used to, you know. And I have a lot of friends who have stopped hunting because they’ve said, ‘If it could happen to me it could happen to them.’ And the people that knew me, knew that it had to be devastating and it had to be truly, well, I don’t know how you call it, whether it was … it was definitely a hunting accident, but the scenario and everything, it was two paths that crossed somehow that it happened. For months afterwards, I tried to relive it, visualize it in my eyes. How could it have happened, or why? And at no time did I see anything that indicated that I had thought I saw deer or anything because I had seen the same picture over and over and over again (taps table to emphasize “over”). And the thing that I wished I could have found out for sure is that they couldn’t prove without a doubt that it wasn’t my bullet.

But I feel the whole thing that changed the whole scenario with the picture, and you’ve been hunting, but, when I first saw the deer, I was close enough that when I brought my scope up, all I could see was brown. So I took the safety off and I fired. Well, they asked me which way the deer was heading when I pulled the trigger. Well, that deer could probably have, conceivably … I said, ‘Well, when I was following the deer it was going this way.’ But then they immediately said, ‘Well, the deer wasn’t going that way, the deer was shot the other way.’ But if the house was here and the deer was going here, and I stopped and jumped and brought my gun up and saw the deer side-to, well, that deer could have very easily — the house is here — turned and gone the other way. So I really was guessing as to which side of that deer I shot at because I was so close that my scope, 4-power scope, you couldn’t see the deer in the scope. That’s how close I was. See, that was a situation where a scope wasn’t really the right piece of equipment to be using. And to that statement, and then when they said they found a deer …

BDN: Over on the banks of Hermon Pond

DR: Yeah. And everything, you know … back to the question. I know a lot of people. I think that it has made hunting safer. I think it’s made people more aware. Some people actually, I still, all the time, it doesn’t matter when during the years since it happened. Even like just like last week, last month, any given time, if the name “Wood” pops up, or who was his best friend?

BDN: Tim Rogers

DR: Tim Rogers. Well, you see, we used to take his boy and carpool it to baseball games because he played Little League with my son. Everything. Every time his name comes up or I go by his house, or I see Mr. Webb, or anything, I think of it, and almost immediately it will go away, but I think about it almost daily at different times. Especially at hunting season.

I miss going hunting, and I know that I’ve had several people tell me, if it could happen to you, it could happen to me. And under the situation, the scenario, it wasn’t a case of somebody being out there, running through the woods and just, you know, and everything.

I think it has made hunting safer.

[6:30] BDN: People like me call up yearly? Periodically? How does that work? Are you still getting [calls].

DR: No. It’s been pretty much behind us. And I’m hoping this year, because last year there was very little said about it. My biggest fear is that it’s going to bring some anti-hunting activist out of the wood-work, and they’re going to get on the bandwagon and they’re going to try to keep this thing rolling. There will to be editorials in the paper about it. But I’m not the type … I didn’t stop taking the Bangor Daily News. I didn’t stop going to work. I was still myself. I did have some, really, fortunate for me I think it helped me mentally, other than just family, was I was an active scout leader. That didn’t jeopardize my position as scoutmaster, which it very well could have. The Council stood behind me. Doug Brown stood behind me. And I belong to the Masons. So that was one retreat, and I was very active in the lodge at the time. I went to Masons and nobody asked, nobody talked, nobody said anything.

BDN: How hard was that, though. You continued to take daily delivery of the Bangor Daily News when, on a daily basis, for months, for more than two years, your name was, there were people who hated you. There were people who supported you as well, but there were people who said things …

DR: Well, I had one scoutmaster that, I couldn’t believe it. He got in there and said I didn’t know my way around the woods and blah, blah, blah. Some hunters really hated me. Hunters really hated me. There were some people that did not … because they just couldn’t understand, and they still couldn’t understand, and I would like to think you could, and other people could, understand how something like that [could happen]. Because the scenario, everything had to be … but it was almost like, you know, have you ever thought about, when you went out in the woods, ‘Geez. What would ever happen if I ever had a hunting accident?’ And it happened.

At no time did I ever have a nightmare. That was the thing that really was my salvation. I never had a nightmare. I mean, I dealt with it right then. I went into shock or whatever you want to say. The first thing I said was ‘I hope that no hunter ever has to go through this again.’ And that was my first and only thought.

If I had been found guilty and gone to jail, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much as it would affected my family. I was willing to accept any consequences if that was the case.

BDN: Do you think, and it wouldn’t have been as good for your family if that had happened, but do you think the treatment of you would have been better by people in some corners if you had said, ‘I’m sorry, lawyer, but I’m going to plead guilty on this because that’s just the way I feel.’ Was that ever discussed?

DR: No. Because at no time did I ever think that I had … (stops, regroups) … I had shot at a deer. I shot a deer. And what I did was, instinctively or whatever, but at no time did I ever see a person, did I ever shoot at a person. And that’s where I really, really, tried hard to vision that. Could I have? And it never came back that way at no time.

And I had pretty reliable sources say that, yeah, you didn’t shoot her. And that haunted me. It probably would have been easier if it had just been cut and dried. Really. To deal with. Because, to this day, I’m not 100 percent sure. Because, we went back to the scene what, one year to the day? Two years to the day? We went back. And the scenario wasn’t – I know things change — but where I fired at the deer, and where I found my two shells, and where they had lined it up was accurately. But where I fired at the deer first wasn’t anywhere near where I fired the second shot. And as far as the scenario of getting to where I was, at no time did I ever see a house, and then when I stepped out like you said (interviewer and Rogerson had previously talked, during a phone conversation, about whether the interviewer had ever been hunting and realized that he was closer to buildings than he’d thought) and there’s the house, and how did I ever get there without seeing the house. But I was tracking the deer. And I literally, I was close enough so that at one time I come to a puddle and the puddle — you ever see a puddle cloud up when a deer steps in a puddle? — There’s a cloud in the puddle. I reach in the puddle, I got down on my hands and knees to feel, and it’s a deer hoof in that puddle. I mean, I was that careful. Because 10 minutes, 15 minutes earlier I stepped through the firs and came face-to-face with a white heifer cow. Right face-to-face. Jumped the bejesus right out of me. So I wasn’t out there just shooting at noise or anything like that. That wasn’t the scenario. There were just things, but … let’s get back to that. I’ll getting ornery again.

BDN: Now, you have not hunted since.

DR: No. No.

BDN: You do fish.

DR: Oh, I love it. I’m an avid fisherman. I’m a fly fisherman, I hike in back of Mount Katahdin every year.

BDN: So you get your outdoor enjoyment now from those activities.

DR: And I’ve climbed Katahdin two or three times in the last couple years. Oh, yeah. I still love the outdoors. And I’d love to be able to … [pauses] But I just could never go out in the woods hunting again because of the fact that the wrong person would see me out there or something and say, ‘Here’s this guy who blah, blah’ or whatever. ‘He’s got no right to be out here.’ And I never lost my license.

(13:00) BDN: Voluntarily gave it up for five years.

DR: Voluntarily gave it up. And I just never had any desire to do it again because it’s like a person that goes out here and a kid steps between a car and bang, he’s gone. Then that person doesn’t drive the rest of his life. It’s that type of scenario.

BDN: So even though you were acquitted in the trial, you’ve never, in some peoples’ views … you make a good point. That if you did go out hunting, there would be people that would say, ‘How dare he?’ Even though you were acquitted of the charges against you, they would say, I guess, it’s an endless time in their mind, as to when you’ve paid whatever debt, even though the court said there was no debt to be paid. That’s, I guess, a pretty heavy anvil hanging over you all the time.

DR: Right. Yeah.

BDN: Have you ever spoken to groups, hunter safety clubs, fish and game clubs?

DR: No. I had thought about it, and probably possibly this year, if this hadn’t come up again, who knows, I might. But I was out in public enough, I spoke to enough youth groups and in boy scouts, and I was very active with the council, so I was able to pretty much communicate to a lot of people in that way, that you can’t be too safe, hunter safety.

BDN: Did you preface it by telling them what had happened to you, or did they understand that, or did you just tell them as their scoutmaster, hey, this is what I want you to know?

DR: Right. You can’t be too careful and you can’t be too sure.

BDN: They had an understanding of what had happened in your case?

DR: Right, yeah. Most people, you know, felt compassion for both sides. And I don’t know if working in the public like I was … psychologically it probably helped me more than it hurt me. Just, because I didn’t miss a day of work. You can imagine me going in to work up here on Third Street.

Rogerson’s wife: You did a few days.

DR: I did miss a few days? In the first week.

BDN: There’s no cave to crawl in there. You’re dealing with people all day long.

DR: Her feeling right from the get-go is, I’m not going to let this change us, who we are. That was the hardest part. She was very adamant about that.

Rogerson’s wife: We had some awful good supporters.

BDN: Are you familiar with the target identification law that went into effect a couple years after your trial? Now it’s ‘what you see and beyond.’

DR: Well, it was always that way. I went to hunter safety. I was in the NRA. I shot on the rifle team in high school.

BDN: It was always taught that way but maybe not in the law books that way?

DW: Well. I never …

BDN: But there was an understanding of what it was, to be prudent and stuff. That was understood.

DW: Oh. Yeah. Now, I think, and I never followed it that close. In my situation, too, I think it was harder to draw a hard line because it’s not like there wasn’t [pause]. They found a deer. The one thing in the paper, they said there wasn’t any deer in the area. Well that’s just bogus. That was just … because there were tons of deer in that area. But it’s not like I went out there one on one. And it comes back, the guy at the hunting camp, what was it, three or four years ago? Shot his best friend, the cook of the camp, up in Presque Isle in Houlton. I think he got two years in prison.

I often wondered, when he got out … and it was hard for me not to write to these people and support them, because I had a lot of people support me that had been involved in hunting accidents over the years.

Rogerson’s wife: Or other types of accidents.

DR: They said, ‘Mr. Rogerson, Listen, you will get through this. Don’t let this destroy you.’

And I often thought, it might have been a lot easier to go to jail for a couple of years, and get out, because, like you said, in a lot of people’s minds, I would have paid my debt. Because some people think I got away with something that really, I don’t feel I got away with anything.

BDN: Do you think, with the target identification law the way it is now, with the standards that do exist, with ‘target and beyond,’ have you ever thought of, would your trial have turned out different with that [law]. Or have you just not thought [about it]?

DR: No. (pauses) I don’t think so. I don’t think so because I think there were corners bent, there were things said and done that weren’t accurate. And I really think there was a lot more pressure there for a conviction than there was [for an acquittal]. I think there were a lot of people shocked at the fact that I was found not guilty than guilty. I don’t know. That’s a hard one to answer.

(19:00) BDN: We spoke about it a little bit before. You haven’t spoken to Kevin Wood. Would you like to talk a little bit more about that. The way I’ve written the question is, ‘Have you tried to speak to Kevin Wood at all. If you did, what would you say to him, or what have you thought of saying to him.’ You made an interesting comment before, if you’d like to share that on the record.

DR: (long pause). Well, I just … It was a terrible accident. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that he might think that … and the way they wrote it … it was so far from … ‘I went out in their backyard and there she was.’ That was just a lot to swallow. And like my truck was parked on their front lawn. He can’t understand that. As far as he knows, I parked my truck on their front lawn and went out behind their house and then gave the keys to the lawyer that was with me and said, ‘Move my truck,’ so I may need it or something for whatever reason, I wasn’t thinking rationally, so what does he do? He takes my truck and moves it from the end of the road and parks it on her front lawn. [Rogerson’s contention is that Kevin Wood may have arrived home, seen his truck on his front lawn, and assumed that Rogerson parked there before walking into his backyard and firing the shot]

BDN: He did after the?

DR: This was afterwards. They didn’t tell people that. As far as they knew, here’s the house, here’s my truck sitting in her front lawn, and I’m out in her backyard. Things like that, that, it wasn’t like that.

I know that anything I say will never change anything, but I just would like to have been able to, say, gee, look, I just can’t imagine what you’re going through and I just really … I was as compassionate about it as, like I said, my own. It was the hardest thing, not being able to approach them. Because it was, it was, I wanted to reach out to them.

BDN: That was a legal decision?

DR: That was a legal decision.

BDN: Do you regret the fact that legal decision was [made]? I know you’ve got to trust your lawyers, but …

Rogerson’s wife: You didn’t listen to the one who was with you, though.

BDN: Peter [Anderson, your hunting companion] said don’t say a thing.

DR: Peter said.

Rogerson’s wife: And everything just tumbled right out. Didn’t it?

DR: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was different. There were just so many things about it that shocked me.

And I said, well, I couldn’t believe …

I accepted the responsibility at the time. But at the time, when I saw here, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I shot her.’ I came up on this person laying there. Because nothing was right about it. She was cold, cold. No warmth. The body was stiff. I picked her up and moved her. That was another stupid thing. I carried out of the woods and put her over by the house. Just little things. Or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I tried to pick her up and she was just so stiff that I couldn’t. I can’t remember. But the medics got there first.

I didn’t try to run. I didn’t try to hide. It was strange.

I had to look to find where the bullet … where I’d shot … and stuff like that.

It was hard. A lot of it was unexplainable to me.

(24:00) BDN: There were several times during the process, beyond the trial and in years since, that you’ve thought, ‘I’d like to put a hand out to Kevin and say …’

DR: Oh, yeah. It’s been hard not to do. And when he moved away and everything. I haven’t seen Dr. Rogers in several years, and I didn’t realize 20 years had gone by. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but the older you get the faster the time goes.

BDN: We’ve talked a little bit about this, but we’re getting back to the real focus I hope this story has. None of us goes into the woods in the morning or in the afternoon thinking that something bad is going to happen to them. What would you say to today’s hunters who are going out there in terms of caution or warning or a message that they can go into the woods with that might, hopefully, prevent situations from happening. Is there anything you can say?

DR: Well, just, make sure of your target and, I guess if there was any one thing that I would take back would be that second shot. The first one was there. But so many times, if you shoot at a deer and the deer takes off and goes and you fire a couple of shots, hoping to get the deer. Probably today I’d never take the second shot. I’d wait, collect myself.

Just, be sure of what you see. I was always brought up that way and I was always sure. And I was sure that day. I was shooting at the deer. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. I just wish there was some way you could crank back and take a scenario and see. Because at no time did I ever see a person.

So, am I the guilty party? I accepted full responsibility because I was there, it happened that quick. But until this day there wasn’t any, what’s the word I’m looking for, closure to it.

BDN: So you still think there are questions that are unanswered, that there could have been another person that could have fired, what, earlier?

DR: Right. Because there was a shot fired probably 20 minutes before. I could have done it, but I could have very easily been a victim of circumstances, just accepting the responsibility or whatever. I, til this day, will never, and I never will know, for certain, because I’ve tried to. And at no time did I ever see a person. But I can understand how it could happen. It was tragic. It was a tragic accident. It was just one of those scenarios that I feel I never want to put myself in that position again. And when you take a gun and go out into the woods, I guess that’s what you’re doing. Just like when you drive a car. At night now, when I’m driving, I’m paranoid as heck, if a kid ran out in front of the car …

It was my father’s wife that got killed on Union Street, stepped off a bus and walked in front of a taxi-cab. That poor taxicab driver. He didn’t have a chance.

BDN: Here are the numbers that I said I could show you, and I know these are tough to read. These are hunting fatalities, 20 years up to 1988. The totals are there. 67 up until 1987. In order to give me two 20-year blocks, I’ve gone then from 1988 until 2007. 13 since. 67 in the 20 years before the incident. 13 since.

DR: Wow.

BDN: It would seem like, and I’m sure this is small solace at best, but it would seem like what did happen might have sparked a new level of concern, caution.

DR: The big thing is urban [sprawl]. The urban sprawl we have is amazing. I didn’t realize it because my daughter now, she lives out in Levant. They live 200 yards off the main road in the woods. They’ve got a beautiful, beautiful home and they’ve got an English mastiff dog. The other day we were out there babysitting grandkids and at 4 o’clock in the morning the dog had got up and had to go out so I let the dog out and didn’t think nothing of it. Well, then two hours, three, when the kids got up and it was daylight, I went to let the dog out and I said, ‘I’m not going to let the dog out without putting its orange vest on.’ I put the orange vest on, they had it hanging right there next to the doorknob, I put the vest on. But I think people are more aware. And I think they prepare themselves better, hopefully.

I had a friend of mine that I hunted on their property. I shot a deer four years in a row, two years in a row, whatever, out in Dixmont. So I went out, they owned a couple hundred acres out there. I’m out there and I’m hunting and there’s several deer around, and I come up. There’s a guy, sawing wood out there, hunting season, he’s got on a bluejean vest, sheepskin lined bluejean vest, white cotton gloves, and no hat on. I went back to the car. I had an orange skullcap. I said, ‘Will you just hang it in a tree where you’re working, or put it on your head, because there’s a lot of hunters in the area.

He was fine. He was safe.

To me, again, you’ve got to be sure. But it wasn’t the first shot that got me in trouble, if that’s the case, if in fact I did it. It had to have been [the second].

What they could never explain was point A and point B, and I was never able to show them that.

(31:00) BDN: Because there was motion involved, you had moved from spot to spot?

DR: From shots. Right. I had to have, because, where I was the first time, I knew exactly where I was when we went back. It had grown up quite a bit, but there was scenarios that led up to the fact that it could have been somebody else.

Back to this, yeah … and if I thought that it would prevent a life [lost] or an accident of some kind [I would speak]. Nobody approached me. And I was surprised that nobody approached me to speak. Whether it was out of respect, which could have been. But I knew a lot of people that belonged to the conservation club over in Brewer. Friends and family and stuff. But maybe, just because they were close enough they didn’t feel they wanted to put me [through it]. But I would have been more than happy to go out and speak.

BDN: You said in the beginning when we talked on the phone, one of the reasons you agreed to do this is if there’s a greater good to be had … can you explain why. Because I didn’t really take notes at the time. Can you explain why you did agree to talk today?

DR: Well, there again, would people look at it and say, ‘He isn’t willing to face up to it,’ or ‘He isn’t willing to talk.’ I’d like the past to be the past, but still, you have to move forward. I think, maybe I’m wrong here, but are figures showing that there’s an increase in hunting now? Or have they ever slacked? That’s the thing for me, I feel like the enthusiasm for hunting is coming back somewhat. Or you hear more about taking the grandkid out hunting or this or that. Or maybe it’s just the paper doing a better part of reporting the family part of it.

BDN: We’ve got totals here of licenses sold. If we go back to 1968 … during that period there were probably, averaging 200,000 in that period. Maybe a little bit less. We went down to 181,000 in ‘72. That might have been during the blaze orange era and not everybody invested in their blaze orange yet and they couldn’t go. But if you look at down here, now we’re up at 209,000. People talk about hunting licenses declining, but really that hasn’t been the case in Maine. We were up to 273,000 in 1993.

BDN: I’ll give you the last word. Anything that you want to talk about that we didn’t get to, or any last point you’d like to make.

DR: I guess not. I can see where you’re coming from, I think.

I don’t think, in Maine, there’s ever going to be total closure. It’s foolish even to think that.

But this year’s the first year that I didn’t go to a hunter’s breakfast. It doesn’t have anything to do with that … we had to do something. We had to close up camp …

I think probably the biggest, for me, the hardest part for me, and probably has nothing to do with this here.

I am such an outdoors enthusiast and everything, I would have liked to have belonged to the fishing club over here in Brewer, or something like that. I’m always joining something. Appalachian Trail Club .. this or that … I’ve often thought that I wish I could be a little more, I don’t want to say, “accepted.” I knew some of the game wardens back when I was younger and more active, before this happened. I knew a couple of the game wardens. I would liked to have felt that I could have been part of that group. Because I do like to fish. I do like the outdoors.

BDN: Do you feel like you were ostracized in a way from that, or did you just not feel that you were that comfortable going that direction.

DR: I didn’t want to put myself in that situation. Different guys that I go fishing with may have a hunting group coming together and I always thought, ‘Well, I could be the camp cook.’ But the story always comes up and different people say, ‘I didn’t know that’ or ‘I didn’t know this.’ I don’t want to say that all game wardens are bad or discriminatory or this or that, but I felt that they were looking more not to find out what happened but just to get a conviction. And I think that was the big thing. They just wanted to close the books, so to speak. And that was hard to accept.

I had one game warden who wrote me a very nice letter. You could feel the compassion in the letter that he wrote and he said, ‘Don, this isn’t right.’ Because I don’t think he felt that they were treating me fairly.

The big thing with me was, that really, I think made the difference, til this day, if I hadn’t been a scout leader. If I hadn’t been a volunteer, because I volunteered, did a lot of volunteer stuff. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke.

Rogerson’s wife: Once in awhile.

DR: Swisher sweets. What guy gets out in the woods and doesn’t?

That day I went out there, I stopped by Gosselin’s bakery and grabbed three or four donuts. Had my thermos jug with coffee. Sat in my truck and had my coffee. Had my donuts. Now, if they’d come back to that truck … so many guys I knew had a six-pack of beer, millworkers, if that had been a millworker over here to the Eastern, gone out and done the exact same thing that I did, I really feel they’d have hung him out to dry.

That bothered me terrible because so many of my friends, my father included, had their pint of gin or whatever.

(talks about other friends who supported him)

People just couldn’t accept the fact that it could happen. That was hard. it was nice to have that support.

I’m a pretty outgoing person, a friendly person.

My only salvation was I never had nightmares.

It probably would have been stronger of me if I had’ve gone out and spoke out in public. If I had’ve needed to do that to … well … I don’t want to say undo … but had some influence on somebody else, then yes [it would have been worthwhile]. But there was always somebody in that mix of people that wouldn’t accept me in that position. And I think that was the only thing that kept me from doing it. Let’s face it. People thrive on negativism more than they do on positivism.

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