Detectives identified the man as 44-year-old Ernie Wayne Wilburn.
Lake deputies say there were witnesses inside the home but they could not explain what happened to Wilburn.
Detectives deemed Wilburn’s death suspicious.
The police believed the death suspicious. An autopsy was done. The proximate cause of death was a puncture to the left lung through the rib cage.
When deputies arrived at the house to investigate, they found Wilburn dead on the living room floor, covered with a sheet and with furniture pillows piled on top of it. Deputies said it was clear the body had been moved because of the location of the blood-like stain on the floor.
Deputies also added that when they read the search warrant, Hill asked if it included a particular area of the property. Deputies said it did, and when they searched in that area, they found the Ruger .22 caliber air rifle.
Ernie Wayne Wilburn likely suffered from a collapsed lung, pneumothorax. This type of wound is often called a “sucking chest wound.” First aid for such wounds is taught in the military. Sucking chest wounds are a common bullet wound suffered in combat.
In sucking chest wounds, air enters the chest cavity, taking up space. The lung in the cavity collapses and has difficulty expanding against the air, which now occupies the space it would normally expand into. This makes it very difficult to breathe. As one lung is unable to expand, the other lung has difficulty expanding as well. As the capacity of the lungs to deliver oxygen to the blood drops, lack of oxygen can cause death.
With modern trauma centers, a sucking chest wound on only one lung, while very dangerous, can be effectively treated and death prevented.
If treatment had been obtained, the victim would likely have survived. The path from assault to manslaughter probably happened when no aid was given to the victim.
It does not take much energy to penetrate into the chest cavity of a human, even a human adult male. Many common air rifles have the capability of doing so.
This type of death is unusual. In today’s society, most victims receive trauma care very quickly. Air gun fatalities more commonly involve shots to the brain where the skull is thin or shots to the heart where the heart is near the surface of the body.
At least one adult black bear was killed in a similar manner last month in Colorado.
A black bear was found shot to death last year and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers are still searching for information on the incident.
A dead 7- or 8-year-old sow was discovered in a Rio Grande River near the Mountain Views at Rivers Edge RV resort south of Creede in Mineral County last fall. Officers determined the animal had been illegally shot and recovered a .22 air rifle pellet from the bear’s chest.
Many people think air rifles are harmless. As illustrated above, ordinary, common air rifles are potentially deadly. The same safety rules used for firearms should be applied.
Shooters need to know what the gun they are shooting is capable of, so they can use an appropriate backstop and so they will not believe the gun/ammunition combination is harmless.
A substantial number of shooters think .22 rimfire ammunition is incapable of causing serious injury to large animals. The opposite is true. A great many large animals are killed with .22 rimfire cartridges every year.
Common .22 air rifles approach the energy levels of the lower powered .22 rimfire cartridges. Both can kill if they hit a human body in a vulnerable place.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.
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