August 21, 2013

Details hazy in shooting of worker at Maine egg farm

A 57-year-old man was killed by a fellow employee who was shooting at rodents and stray chickens at the Moark Egg Farm in Turner.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

TURNER — Authorities are trying to determine whether criminal negligence played a role in the shooting death of an egg farm worker who lay bleeding on the floor of a building for an undetermined period of time before a coworker found him.

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A truck passes a large barn at Moark Egg Farm in Turner on Tuesday, August 20, 2013, a day after a man was accidentally shot and killed by a co-worker who was shooting rodents and stray chickens.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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Deputy Maine Attorney General in charge of the criminal division, William Stokes, briefed the assembled media at Moark Egg Farm in Turner on Tuesday, August 20, 2013, regarding the Monday incident in which a man was accidentally shot and killed at the farm by a co-worker who was shooting rodents and stray chickens.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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The 57-year-old man was shot Monday afternoon by another worker who was shooting rodents and stray chickens while clearing a barn at the former DeCoster Egg Farm, now operated by Moark Egg Farm.

The shooting is believed to be unintentional but investigators want to know why the worker, who was armed with a .22-caliber rifle, was not aware there was someone in his field of fire, said Deputy Attorney General William Stokes.

"One of the things we're looking at is whether there's a level of recklessness and criminal negligence involved in the conduct," Stokes said outside the company property.

"Was there gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable and prudent person would observe?" he said, citing the state law on criminal negligence.

Company officials did not allow reporters on the property.

The victim, who had worked at the egg farm for the past 15 years, made his way out of the barn in which he was shot and collapsed in another building, one of dozens in the complex. Police say there were few workers in the sprawling complex, and the victim may have been lying there for some time. Stokes said it could have been more than a few minutes, but that he did not believe it was hours.

Police examined a trail of blood, trying to piece together events, Stokes said.

It's not clear whether the victim would have heard the gun being fired in the barn, but Stokes said the small-caliber rifle does not make much noise and fans and other loud machinery might have masked it.

The victim died in an ambulance on the way to a hospital in Lewiston, according to a news release from the Maine Department of Public Safety.

State police are withholding the name of the victim until relatives are notified, the news release said. He might be from Texas and have family there, authorities said.

An investigator with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is examining the company's safety procedures to see whether federal laws were violated.

Karen Billups, an OSHA supervisor, said the last time the agency sent an investigator to the farm was in March after receiving a complaint of workers being harmed by breathing ammonia fumes. The investigation turned up no ammonia and no action was taken, she said.

She would not comment on the investigation into the shooting.

Moark Egg Farm runs several large egg farms in the state and is owned by the dairy conglomerate Land O'Lakes.

The two workers were clearing a hen house of rodents and stray chickens before a new shipment of hens was brought in, which is standard practice, Stokes said. He said police have not determined whether the man's use of a .22 caliber rifle -- which can fire bullets an extremely long distance -- is typical for clearing a hen house.

Building 51, where the shooting occurred, is 500 feet long and filled with cages and machinery for feeding birds and collecting eggs, with narrow walkways in between.

"You can't see to the end of the building," Stokes said, explaining that the lighting inside is dim. He said he wanted to see for himself where the incident occurred, because it is difficult to describe.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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State police investigators and Deputy Attorney General William Stokes met with officials from Moark Egg Farm at its Turner location Tuesday, August 20, 2013, after a man was accidentally shot and killed by a co-worker who was shooting rodents and stray chickens.

Gabe Souza


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