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Questions Raised about Cheney Hunting Accident

Questions are being raised about a weekend hunting accident in Texas that involved Vice President Dick Cheney. He accidentally wounded a fellow hunter in a shooting accident.

The incident happened late Saturday while the vice president was quail hunting at a private ranch not far from Corpus Christi, Texas.

According to ranch owner Katherine Armstrong, who witnessed the incident, a member of the hunting party had moved away from the group to pick up a downed quail.

She says Harry Whittington, a prominent 78-year-old Texas attorney, then moved unannounced behind the vice-president just as he turned and fired his shotgun at one of the small birds.

"The vice-president took aim at the bird and shot and unfortunately Mr. Whittington was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty well [sprayed with the pellets]," said Ms. Armstrong.

Harry Whittington got emergency treatment from Cheney's medical aides and was then taken by helicopter to a hospital. Hospital spokesman Peter Banko said Monday morning his condition was stable.

"Mr. Whittington rested well last night and is joking with staff this morning," said Mr. Banko.

The White House usually alerts the national media quickly when the president or vice-president is involved in an accident. That was the case when President Bush was riding a mountain bike last July in Scotland and collided with a policeman.

But this time the first word of the hunting accident came the morning after, when the ranch owner contacted a local newspaper. By the time the vice president's press office confirmed the facts, almost 22 hours had passed.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan blamed the delay on the need to provide medical treatment and get all the facts from those involved.

"It's important always to work to make sure you get information out like this as quickly as possible," he said. "But it is also important to make sure the first priority is where it should be, making sure that Mr. Whittington has the care that he needs."

McClellan said the vice-president's office worked with the ranch owner to make the incident public, because she was an eyewitness to an event on her property. He said President Bush was told about the accident shortly after it occurred but added it was hours later before it was confirmed that the vice-president fired the shot.*

*Typo corrected 2/14/2006.