February 16, 2006


From Arrival to Errant Shot, a Timeline of Cheney's Hunting Accident (RALPH BLUMENTHAL, 2/16/06, NY Times)

This time the celebrity at the 50,000-acre Armstrong Ranch was Mr. Cheney, a regular visitor in quail season and a longtime friend, particularly to Ms. Armstrong's 78-year-old mother, Anne, a former counselor to President Gerald R. Ford and the first woman to serve as United States ambassador to Britain.

The other guests were Ms. Willeford, the ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and her husband, George, a physician in Austin; Ben Love, a West Texas rancher whom Ms. Armstrong called her "beau"; her sister, Sarita Hixon, a Houston museum chairwoman, and her husband, Bob, an insurance executive; Nancy Negley, an art philanthropist whose family once controlled Brown & Root, now a part of Halliburton; and Mr. Whittington, a 78-year-old Austin lawyer, Republican stalwart and presiding officer of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, and his wife, Mercedes.

At first Ms. Armstrong declined to say who besides Mr. Cheney and her sister had been her guests, but she provided the names after The Austin American-Statesman learned of Ms. Willeford's presence. Ms. Willeford spoke Monday by phone but declined to be interviewed again Wednesday. Mrs. Hixon and Ms. Negley did not respond to several messages.

All the guests were there by 6 p.m. Friday, Ms. Armstrong said. The others drove, but Mr. Cheney flew in with his Secret Service entourage; his wife, Lynne, had also been expected but could not come at the last minute, Ms. Armstrong said. Quartered in adjoining ranch houses, the group dined together Friday night and retired by about 10.

They were up before 8 Saturday and headed out in two groups, with outriders on horseback to flush the birds and about a dozen American pointers and Labrador retrievers.

They broke at 1 p.m. for a picnic lunch — Mr. Cheney said he had had one beer but "nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence" — then returned to the house to freshen up before heading out again with different partners. Ms. Armstrong drove an old Jeep with Mr. Cheney, Mrs. Hixon, Ms. Willeford and Mr. Whittington.

By close to 5:30 p.m., she said, each group had bagged perhaps 40 quail for the day, well below the limit of 15 per person, and they were following their last covey, or flock.

At that point, Ms. Armstrong said, they figured they had 10 to 15 minutes of good light, and it would have taken 40 minutes or so to find another covey, so this was to be their last shooting of the day.

They had taken turns shooting, and now Ms. Armstrong was in the Jeep with her sister. About 100 yards away, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Whittington and Ms. Willeford were walking in a line in a low spot on gently sloping ground.

After Mr. Whittington bagged his birds he dropped out of sight along with one of Ms. Armstrong's bird dogs, Gertie, Ms. Willeford recalled.

Then, suddenly, he was in a dip about 30 yards away against the sun just as Mr. Cheney fired a blast from his Italian-made 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun. Mr. Whittington caught the spray of birdshot on the right side of his face, neck and chest. "I said, 'Harry, I had no idea you were there,' " Mr. Cheney recalled, adding: "He didn't respond."

Ms. Armstrong initially faulted Mr. Whittington. "You tell your companions you're there, and he failed to do that," she said.

Ms. Willeford described her reaction as "stunned" and said, "The vice president immediately started moving over to check on him."

Ms. Armstrong used her cellphone to call Mr. Love, who was in the other hunting party, with Mrs. Whittington. "Until we know how Harry is, it's best not to say anything to Merce," Mr. Love said she had told him.

An ambulance — one always accompanies Mr. Cheney — arrived in about 30 minutes.

Ms. Armstrong called Mr. Love back. "He looks O.K.," she said. "He's responsive, he's talking." Mr. Love agreed to tell Mrs. Whittington. "She sat upright and asked, 'How bad?' " Mr. Love recalled.

They saw the ambulance, bearing Mr. Whittington, speeding toward them and tried to flag it down for his wife, but it sped away, Mr. Love said. He and Mrs. Whittington, Dr. Willeford and Mr. Hixon then made their own way about an hour and 20 minutes north to the Christus Spohn hospital in Kingsville.

Mr. Whittington's injuries were deemed serious enough to require treatment at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi, at least another hour's drive away, and he was flown there by helicopter.

When they reached the hospital in Corpus Christi, Dr. Willeford and Mr. Hixon called the others at the ranch to report on Mr. Whittington's condition, which Ms. Armstrong described as non-life-threatening. "He was O.K., he checked out fine," she said.

The Secret Service, which put the time of the shooting at 5:50 p.m., said it had notified Sheriff Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy County by 7 p.m.

Sheriff Salinas said he had dispatched a deputy, and he later issued a news release suggesting that the officer had been turned away at the ranch. The Washington Post on Wednesday quoted Sheriff Salinas as saying that he first learned of the shooting from one of his captains, who had been summoned to escort the ambulance, but that he arrived after the ambulance left and that the Border Patrol agent guarding the gate during Mr. Cheney's visit knew nothing of any shooting.

Sheriff Salinas did not return repeated calls, and a reporter seeking to resolve the discrepancies was turned away Wednesday by the sheriff's office in Sarita, which said he was "unavailable."

Ms. Armstrong said she knew nothing of any attempted visit by a deputy on Saturday night.

The Secret Service appears also to have gotten word to the White House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 16, 2006 11:50 AM

The only word a leftie will understand in that whole piece is "Halliburton". The rest they'll ignore.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 16, 2006 12:04 PM

"An ambulance one always accompanies Mr. Cheney arrived in about 30 minutes." So if the VP had a heart arrack, it would take them thirty minutes to show up. Isn't that bad?

Posted by: ic at February 16, 2006 12:26 PM

I've not been drunk, but if you're somewhat drunk (I'll assume Cheney wasn't bleary eyed and staggering about with his shotgun) at 2pm, figuring an hour for lunch, are you still drunk a little after 5pm?

I don't actually think he was drunk, but I'm just wondering.

Posted by: RC at February 16, 2006 12:42 PM


Ever worked on a ranch in Texas? On our geoseismic crw we were waned that it might take them hours to get us to where a rattlesnake bite could be treated, including as long as a half-hour or hour just to get to us.

Posted by: oj at February 16, 2006 12:47 PM

To the New York Times: I'll say this in words that even your editorial staff and commentators can probably understand:

Give it up. Nobody cares. Deal with it.

Posted by: Raoul Orega at February 16, 2006 1:25 PM


Some "New Yorker" is threatening to fund a primary challenge to the Kennedy County DA if he doesn't indict Cheney.

Might it be Gail Collins? Frank Rich? Paul Krugman? Dowdy? Elisabeth Bumiller? Adam Nagourney? Bob Herbert? The possibilities are endless.

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 16, 2006 2:52 PM

The county Cheney was huting in is basically made up of two ranches, the Anderson and King ranches, and even though it's nearly the size and roughly the shape of Rhode Island, has a population of about 450 people. So on-site services are not going to be very plentiful, even though the county itself is sandwiched between two fairly populous areas along the Texas Golf Coast. But I am a bit suprised that with Cheney's medical team being in the area, they brought Whittington to Kingsville first, instead of airlifting him directly from the site to Corpus Christi.

Posted by: John at February 16, 2006 3:39 PM

New Yorkers mounting a challege to the sheriff in Kennedy Co. Texas. What fun that would be.

Posted by: erp at February 16, 2006 4:14 PM

"what we have here, is a failure to communicate"

Posted by: toe at February 16, 2006 4:22 PM

The vice-President said exactly the right thing: he pulled the trigger; he's responsible.

If it mattered, we should like to know a little more about the accident. The basic rule of hunting safety is that if you don't know that it's safe to shoot, it's not safe to shoot.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 16, 2006 8:13 PM