ROCKLAND, Maine — The lobsterman shot on Matinicus Island last week claims he was the victim of a coordinated attack that may leave him permanently disabled.
In a lawsuit filed in Knox County Superior Court on Tuesday, shooting victim Christopher Young, 41, of Matinicus says that accused shooter Vance Bunker, 68, of Matinicus was not alone when he pulled the trigger of his .22-caliber pistol and shot Young in the neck. Young alleges that Bunker’s daughter, Janan Miller, also was present on the dock that Monday morning armed with a shotgun.
In an affidavit filed with the lawsuit, Young, who remains hospitalized, claims that Miller aimed the shotgun at both him and his stepbrother, Weston Ames, moments before Bunker drew his pistol from a holster and fired one shot at Ames that missed, then turned and shot Young.
Ames, who is Young’s half brother, also filed a lawsuit. It asks for punitive damages stemming from the incident.
Bunker has been charged with aggravated assault and is free on $125,000 bail with the provision that he not set foot on the island. Miller has not been charged. The July 20 shooting on the island dock remains under investigation.
Knox County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Ernie McIntosh declined to discuss details of the case when contacted Wednesday. “Once the investigation is completed we will submit it to the District Attorney’s Office for their recommendations,” he said.
Young was shot in the neck. According to the statement, fragments from the slug remain embedded in an area close to his spine and cannot be removed because of the risk of further damage. The shot left Young with limited control of both arms and the “almost total paralysis of his hands.”
Young said he is in “tremendous pain” and that the pain is “seriously exacerbated by movement or touch.” He said that the loss of the use of his hands and arms may be permanent and that it is unlikely he will be able to return to lobster fishing.
For the past 10 years, Young claimed annual earnings of $100,000. He said he planned to fish for lobster until age 65 and that his total future earnings would amount to more than $2.4 million.
Bunker’s attorney, Philip Cohen, said Young and Ames had been threatening Bunker and his family for several days. Bunker had to use pepper spray to get Young off his boat earlier that day, he said.
“It was a case of self-defense and defense of his daughter,” Cohen said.
The dispute between lobstermen apparently was caused when Miller’s husband, Alan Miller, who comes from the mainland, began fishing in waters off Matinicus that islanders consider their own. Bunker is a longtime Matinicus lobsterman, and Miller, as Bunker’s son-in-law, apparently felt he had a right to set traps in island waters. Some of Miller’s gear was destroyed a few days before the shooting.
The destruction of gear has been a problem on the island for years as fishermen fight for territory. State Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe traveled to the island over the weekend in an attempt to defuse tensions and get the community to work together. In a model that might help Matinicus resolve its tensions, the fishing grounds around Monhegan are reserved for island residents; creating a similar situation for Matinicus is being considered. Additional meetings are planned.
In his affidavit, Young stated that he has been fishing lobster since he was 6 years old and has known Bunker all his life. On the day of the shooting, Young and Ames went to the town dock to meet with Maine Marine Patrol Warden Wes Dean, who at the time was aboard Miller’s boat.
As they waited for Dean, Bunker pulled up in his pickup truck. At the same time, Janan Miller allegedly stepped from behind a stack of lobster traps and leveled a shotgun at the two men. Young contends that the timed arrival of Bunker and the two Millers “was coordinated conduct.”
Young said that when Janan Miller pointed the shotgun at Ames, he “brushed” the barrel away and told her to put the gun down. It was when she raised the gun and again pointed it at Ames that Bunker drew his gun and shot and missed Ames.
“Vance Bunker then turned, again took deliberate aim, this time at Christopher, and shot him in the neck,” the suit says.
Upon hearing the shots, Dean jumped from Miller’s boat and ordered everyone onto the ground. Bunker left the wharf, Young claimed.
Young stated that at no time did either he or Ames touch or threaten Bunker or the Millers.
Ames gave a similar description of the events in his suit against Bunker and the Millers. Ames also contended that Bunker and the Millers made a coordinated effort to “trap” Young and him on the dock. Ames stated that he suffered “emotional and physical” distress from being shot at and witnessing Young get shot.
Besides filing suit against Bunker and the Millers, Young and his wife, Kimberly, asked the court to place a $4 million attachment on Bunker’s property before he could transfer ownership to avoid a civil judgment. Young noted that Bunker owns real estate on Matinicus and elsewhere in Knox and Androscoggin counties, and owns at least one airplane as well as several boats.
Justice Jeffrey Hjelm denied the request because Bunker had not been notified of the claim. Hjelm indicated he would consider the attachment provided Bunker was given notification.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.