SURRY, Maine — Nicknamed “the Midnight Gunslinger,” he could shoot a rifle and hit a target 200 yards away, despite the fact that he could not see.
On Tuesday morning, poor visibility apparently intervened to take the life of James Miekka, 54, when he was struck by a sport utility vehicle as he was walking along Route 176, known locally as Toddy Pond Road.
The driver of the Ford SUV, resident Robert Elliott, 27, told the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department that his vision was obscured by the rising sun as he was driving east toward Surry village. The vehicle, a 2003 Expedition, struck Miekka as the blind marksman was walking west along the eastbound side of the road. Miekka’s guide dog, Zoey, was unhurt in the accident.
Elliott stopped immediately and rendered first aid to Miekka, Lt. Tim Cote said in a prepared statement. The accident remains under investigation.
Miekka was known for more than his shooting ability. He was a stock market investor who developed a highly technical formula called “The Hindenburg Omen” for predicting stock market crashes. He also was publisher of the Sudbury Bull and Bear report, a weekly newsletter he created to advise readers about investments.
In 2010, when Miekka disclosed his development of the “Omen” formula — named after the airship that killed 36 people when it caught fire in 1937 — it garnered attention in the business press. The Tampa Bay Times, Wall Street Journal, and CNBC all did stories about the indicator and how accurate it might be.
Miekka was a former physics teacher who, in the summer of 1986, lost his eyesight when an experiment on a chemical product he and his brother were trying to patent for use in the mining industry went awry. In a 2010 interview with the Bangor Daily News, Miekka said he was mixing chemicals at his family’s kitchen table in Sudbury, Massachusetts, when the mix exploded, damaging his hands and eyes.
His curiosity and analytical drive were not dimmed by his misfortune. Among the many projects he decided to channel his intellectual restlessness into was one that would enable him to use sound to aim a firearm equipped with a light-sensitive scope.
He was inspired by a device presented at the 1939 World’s Fair that could transform visual images into sound, the Daily Mail reported last year. He developed a powerful scope he called a bionic eye that, when focusing on contrasting colors of a target, would use photo cells to convert the light in the image to electricity. The electrical charge then would be converted to sound that Miekka listened to through headphones while preparing to shoot.
As Miekka aimed the rifle, the pitch of the emitted sound in his headphones would change. By tracking how the sound changed when his aim shifted, Miekka would determine where to point the gun when he pulled the trigger.
“If you [point] it too far right, the left ear buzzes and if you [point] it too far left, my right ear buzzes,” he told the BDN in 2010. Miekka said at the time that he uses the sounds “to calculate the point of impact.”
James Goody, president of the Orrington Rod & Gun Club, on Tuesday recalled Miekka demonstrating his device at the club four years ago. He said he only met him in person that one time, but that he knew Miekka was one-of-a-kind. The sound scope Miekka developed, he said, was like nothing he had ever seen before or since.
“He was absolutely fascinating,” Goody said. “It’s so sad [that he died].”
Miekka was a summer resident of Surry. According to published reports, he lived in Homosassa, Florida, north of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, during the winter months.
Contacted Tuesday afternoon by phone, Miekka’s father, Richard Miekka of the Tampa suburb of Brandon, Florida, said his son was in Maine by himself, except for his guide dog, when the accident occurred. He said Jim, as his son liked to be called, owned 80 acres in Surry and had summered in Maine for more than a decade.
Jim Miekka’s girlfriend, Susan Tate, had stayed behind in Florida this year.
“She’s devastated,” Richard Miekka said.
The elder Miekka said his son was a “borderline genius.” He could do complicated mathematical equations in his head, which he employed more than once when developing ways to analyze the stock market. He even took an interest in a New Jersey murder case, going so far as to contact authorities with his findings when he calculated that physical evidence mathematically proved that the husband could not have done it.
“He was all upset they hadn’t done some simple calculations,” Richard Miekka said.
The father said his son was an inspiration to everyone who has to navigate life with a disability. He said that in 2010, Jim Miekka walked 130 miles to St. Petersburg from Citrus County in Florida, where he was chairman of the board of Blind Americans Inc., to raise awareness about the vision impaired and to encourage them to be more self-sufficient.
“He had his own internal compass,” Richard Miekka said of his son.
Jim Miekka is survived by his parents, Richard and Jeanette Miekka, his sister Cynthia Bordas, and his brother Fred Miekka, his father said, in addition to Tate and several nieces and nephews.
BDN writer Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.