TRAVERSE CITY — A hunter accused of shooting and killing a man during deer season stayed mostly silent while a judge formally announced charges that could send him to prison.
David Michael Barber stood next to his attorney, Daniel Hartman, for an 86th District Court arraignment hearing. Judge Thomas Phillips read off the counts he faces, including a 15-year involuntary manslaughter felony charge, felony firearm and careless discharge of a firearm causing injury or death.
A Michigan Department of Natural Resources investigation determined Barber, on Nov. 15 — Michigan’s opening day of firearm deer season — shot and killed Justin Beutel at about 1 p.m. close to the West Elder Road and Torch Lake Drive intersection, near Alden.
Barber thought he was shooting at a deer, according to court records. Beutel died from injuries suffered from the gunshot.
"Condolences to the family," Hartman said. "It's a tragedy."
Hartman and Prosecutor Jim Rossiter declined to discuss the allegations further.
Barber is scheduled to appear for a probable cause conference Jan. 16 in Bellaire.
Theresa Steiner Schurman, Beutel’s mother, said her son was dressing a deer he harvested earlier in the day when he was shot. He sent a photo to his family members just before his death — a smiling, bearded Beutel can be seen posing with his buck.
Deer hunting was a tradition Beutel picked up when he was a kid. He enjoyed hunting the plot of family-owned land with his father and grandfather, Schurman said.
“It was a nice place to get away,” Schurman said. “He loved the outdoors.”
He was a motorcycle mechanic, specializing in Harley Davidson bikes, when he wasn’t hunting. Beutel started his own shop last summer.
Beutel lived in Sanford with his wife — who also is an avid hunter — but stayed with his mother in Rapid City to hunt the property that has been in the family since 1942.
DNR officers continue to see fewer and fewer hunting fatalities, like Beutel’s death, said Lt. James Gorno, a DNR conservation officer for District 3, covering Antrim, Alpena, Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet, Montmorency, Otsego and Presque Isle counties.
Beutal’s death marks the second fatality reported during deer hunting season, including bow hunting season, over the last five years, according to DNR statistics — another hunter was killed in 2016.
“Over the last 25 to 30 years, the hunting incidents dropped off dramatically because of hunter safety classes, hunter awareness and (hunters) following the law,” Gorno said.
Statistics back up Gorno’s claim. Hunter fatalities fell from 89 recorded from 1940-1970 to less than 20 through the late 1970s, when those numbers fell even more.
Gorno also pointed to laws requiring to hunters wear orange — either an orange cap, hat, vest, jacket or rain gear, according to state statute — for the decrease in deaths.
“Between all those things, it has cut down on the accidents dramatically,” he said.