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PA Press: Snake shooter cleared

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Posted by W von Papinešu on September 17, 2002 at 18:39:12:

PRESS ENTERPRISE (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) 14 September 02 Snake shooter cleared (Michael Lester)
Catawissa: A determined teenager hailed a cab to court, argued his case without help from a lawyer and cleared himself in the killing of a rattlesnake Friday.
A district justice dismissed a charge that Jim Romig, 19, illegally shot and killed a 4-foot-long rattlesnake in May after hearing arguments from Romig and his uniformed opponents: Brook Tolbert, an officer from the Fish and Boat Commission, and John Morack, an officer from the state Game Commission.
District Justice Craig Long ruled that Romig made an honest mistake and that his intentions were good. The magistrate dropped a $67.50 fine that Tolbert slapped on Romig for shooting a rattler out of season.
Romig will nonetheless be lighter in the wallet. He'll have to pay $30 to cover the cost of dispatching a constable with a warrant to Romig's house after the teen failed to appear for a previous hearing.
Romig almost didn't make it to Friday's proceeding, either.
He tried to postpone it because he couldn't get a ride to the magistrate's office. But he failed to give five days' notice.
Told by Long he would be found guilty if he didn't show yesterday, Romig called a cab to pick him up at his home in Buckhorn.
As Romig sat Friday morning at the defense table inside Long's courtroom and calmly argued his case, a red and white plastic six-pack cooler sat on the floor a few feet away from him. The rattlesnake's preserved remains were inside.
Tolbert brought the carcass as evidence.
After the hearing, Tolbert said the snake remains would be destroyed.
Romig showed up yesterday at Long's office alone and acted as his own lawyer during the hearing.
Told by Long during the proceeding that he could ask questions of Tolbert after Tolbert stated his case, Romig politely declined.
Romig also opted not to cross-examine the only witness called by Tolbert, Morack.
When it was his turn to give his side of the story, Romig briefly spoke, rehashing what happened in a quiet monotone.
"I thought what I did was a good deed," Romig testified. "I decided it would be best if I killed the snake."
Snake attack
Romig and brother-in-law Scott Fenstamaker had just finished hunting near a rifle range along Route 339 outside Mifflinville on May 25 when they spotted a dead hen in tall grass.
As they approached the dead hen, they noticed a rattlesnake in an "S shape" about to attack a group of baby turkeys.
Romig said he blasted the snake in the head with a 20-gauge shotgun to save the turkeys.
Tolbert argued that Romig should have left the snake alone.
"That's nature. A rattlesnake doesn't eat cheeseburgers," Tolbert said during the hearing. "It eats small animals. It's no different than a bear going after a baby fawn."
Romig was unaware at the time that there was a hunting season for rattlesnakes and that he had shot the snake out of season.
Baby turkeys killed
State law says people may kill rattlesnakes out of season only if they pose an immediate threat to humans.
Under questioning by Tolbert, Romig says the snake never threatened him or Fenstamaker.
After Romig killed the snake, Romig and Fenstamaker took six baby turkeys home to Fenstamaker's house that day.
Romig's trouble started when he called the state Game Commission from Fenstamaker's, seeking permission to raise the babies.
Morack responded to Fenstamaker's house, questioned the men and took the turkeys.
"I told them they should leave nature to itself," Morack testified.
The Game Commission later destroyed the turkeys, Morack said, because they likely would not have survived without their mother.
'Common sense'
After interviewing the men the day of the incident, Morack reported it to Tolbert, who slapped the fine on Romig for shooting the snake out of season.
That Romig called the Game Commission showed he wasn't trying to hide a crime from authorities, Long said. Long mentioned the phone call as a reason he dismissed the charge.
"Sometimes, some common sense should prevail," Long said. "Do I think he knowingly broke the law? No."
Romig's case generated public criticism of the game and fish commissions.

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