ROCKLAND, Maine — After Edwin Vance Bunker emerged Wednesday morning from his arraignment hearing into the bright sunshine outside the Knox County Courthouse, he was met by a crowd of supporters.
“The truth will eventually come out,” said Heather Sewall of South Thomaston, who said she works with Bunker on his lobster boat. “This series of events is a tragedy for everyone involved and everyone on the island. I hope the resolution to this will be peaceful.”
The 15 or so people who greeted Bunker on the courthouse steps showed another side of public response since the lobsterman last came to court in mid-August for a bail condition modification hearing. At that time, 20 or so Matinicus Island residents came to court to show their agreement with a bail condition that has kept Bunker off the island since the July 20 incident, which left lobsterman Chris Young with a gunshot wound in the neck after an altercation on the town dock. Bunker was charged in the shooting.
Bunker, 68, seemed heartened by the support of his family and friends and spoke to the press about the incident Wednesday.
“It would be nice if I could do what I have to do [on Matinicus], but they don’t want me back until it’s over,” he said of the state’s ban. “I’m going to be made an example of.”
The heavy-set lobsterman, who wears a hearing aid, said he was sorry for the violence that day.
“Anybody would regret shooting anybody,” he said.
He said that he and Young had been friendly before the incident.
“Chris isn’t the only one involved,” Bunker said. “He and I were just the ones that ended up in that situation.”
Tensions in the fishing community were running very high that day, Bunker said, and Young had boarded Bunker’s boat and assaulted him earlier in the morning.
“He jumped on me. He tried to knock me down,” Bunker said.
Just after the violence erupted on the town dock, Bunker told a Knox County sheriff’s deputy that he shot Young because he feared for the life of his daughter, Janan Miller, who according to Bunker’s affidavit was struggling with another island lobsterman, Weston D. Ames, over a shotgun.
Miller, 45, was indicted in September on a charge of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon in connection with the incident.
According to affidavits filed in the case, the dispute began when Bunker’s son-in-law Alan Miller, who normally fished out of Tenants Harbor, began setting traps off Matinicus in early June. Island fishermen are protective of their fishing grounds and historically have chased outsiders away. Bunker claimed that Miller lost 150 traps the first week he set them.
By summer, tensions had escalated to the point of gunshots in the July 20 confrontation between the other fishermen and Bunker and his daughter.
“I was scared,” Vance Bunker recalled Wednesday. “I just felt I had no choice. One of us or both of us were going to get shot.”
Janan Miller was waiting with Heather Sewall on the steps after the hearing and hugged her father.
Bunker said he is still lobstering in his traditional fishing grounds off Matinicus Island and goes out three or four times a week.
“There’s more people that wave when you go hauling now than there used to be,” he said. “Some [islanders] will talk to me and be supportive. Others are scared of being supportive.”
Bunker said he’s had some trouble with gear vandalism since the shooting.
His wife, Sari Bunker, said the tensions on Matinicus were there long before the July 20 shooting and trouble. She said she had understood that her husband’s ban would be lifted after a cooling-off period.
“Our life is out there,” she said. “I just think there’s a bigger problem besides Vance.”
Sari Bunker said she’s been back to Matinicus four times since July 20 to retrieve things the family needed, and there were no problems.
While Bunker accepts the continued ban, he talked about Matinicus with some longing.
“I’d like to go back. I’d accept most any [condition],” he said Wednesday. “That’s my home. It’s been my home for 68 years.”