It was the perfect day for late season deer hunting, until the unthinkable happened; a freak hunting accident that left one man in the hospital and his close friend and fellow law enforcement officer devastated.
On Jan. 3, Timmy Johnson, a Tappahannock police officer, was off-duty and hunting on a tract of land off Sharps Road near Beaverdam when he spotted a deer.
According to authorities, with the prey in his sights, Johnson took aim.
He allegedly proceeded to discharge approximately four shots with 3.5-inch buckshot, each containing 18 pellets, not realizing that the deer had jumped over a berm and crossed onto a public road.
By what many are calling to be an unimaginable coincidence, Johnson’s long-time friend, Danny Marks Jr., an Essex County deputy, happened to be driving by the deer’s passage at the same time.
The result was catastrophic.
One of the shots hit Marks’ white, Ford F-150, puncturing holes in the vehicle.
But it was one stray pellet that has devastated both the Marks’ and the Johnson family after it struck the veteran deputy in the head.
“It hit him right above his left ear, right along where his hat line was,” said Conservation Police Sergeant and Northern Neck District Supervisor Rich Goszka of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF). “[Marks] was just traveling along the road to join a separate hunting group. This was just very random.”
According to DGIF spokesman Ron Messina, as a result of his injury, Marks lost control of his vehicle, rolling it twice and totaling the vehicle before it came to a complete stop.
Emergency service personnel quickly responded to the scene, and Marks was airlifted to MCV-VCU hospital in Richmond, where he was listed as in stabile but guarded condition in the trauma/critical care unit.
Sources close to the investigation say that Marks is expected to recover but that the “road will not be easy.”
What is perhaps most shocking to many in the community is the randomness of the event.
Marks and Johnson are close friends, both having worked at one time at the Richmond County Sheriff’s office, the Tappahannock Police Department and having partnered together on multiple off-duty cooperative efforts.
For Goszka, it was an important lesson in hunting safety.
“You have to look at what is beyond your field of view because you cannot take that bullet back,” he said. “This.. it is not worth the deer. You must, at all times know where your target is.”
According to Goszka, last year there were a total of 25 accidents in the commonwealth, with one fatality, as a result of injuries sustained by the discharge of a weapon while hunting.
He added that all hunters go through extensive safety training before garnering their license.
“These projectiles can go 100 yards, hit a house and penetrate a wall,” he said. “Please, know where you are shooting.”
Despite the accidental nature of the incident, Johnson is currently facing two misdemeanor charges related to the shooting including reckless handling of a firearm while hunting and shooting in or across a road or street.
Messina added that the investigation is still ongoing and any information or charges are subject to change.