Friday, January 09, 2004

 

ROSEVILLE WOMAN LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

IN MYSTERIOUS HUNTING DEATH OF SON

 

By Jason Probst

The Press Tribune

 

Evelyn Webster is still looking into the death of her son, Brooks Black, who died while hunting in Grass Valley two years ago. She asks that anyone with information regarding Blacks’ death email her at Hwymansmom23@psyber.com.

 

Evelyn Webster lost her son to a hunting accident two years ago. But in her mind, the mystery remains unsolved. The Roseville woman is still battling to uncover the truth behind the events that took his life.

 

While on leave from the Marine Corps, Lance Corporal Brooks Black went pig hunting with a friend, Chris Tourville, on Dec. 30, 2001. They met with two friends of Tourville’s, Eric Kelly and Jeff Hughan, in Nevada City. Kelly owned property there, a 200-acre ranch located in a rural area of Grass Valley.

 

Webster was told by police the following day that Black’s rifle strap had broken, discharging his .270 Winchester, killing him with a bullet in the back during the early morning hours of New Year’s eve.

 

The shock of his passing was compounded in the coming weeks and months. The evidence of the events that took her 21 year-old son’s life didn’t raise the attention of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department, whose investigation declared Black’s death a hunting accident.

 

“At first I thought it was a horrific accident,” Webster said. “They didn’t confiscate anyone’s weapons, or tape it off as a crime scene. They didn’t check the backgrounds of the men, either.”  Background checks would have shown felony convictions for Kelly (DUI, resisting arrest) and Tourville, who has been convicted of six felony counts, including felon with a firearm, two counts of burglary and assorted theft convictions.

 

Webster hoped that, with the circumstances involved, the Sheriff’s Department could have done more. She’s spent the last two years going over the evidence, hoping to get the Sheriff’s Department and coroner’s office to reopen the case without success.

The coroner’s office did not return repeated calls for comment to The Press-Tribune.

 

Subsequent tests of the rifle by the Department of Justice revealed the bolt-action Winchester that Black was carrying fired “most of the time” when dropped from a distance of more than 18 inches, which explains how Black could’ve been shot.

 

Rick Corter, the nearest neighbor to the Kelly property, was driving to work the morning of Dec. 31 and came upon the three men doing CPR on Black in the back of Hughan’s truck, at the access gate at Perimeter and Big Springs roads.  Asked to call for help, and wary of the situation, he drove up the road and dialed 911. Paramedics responded and declared Black dead.  What Corter found out later makes him skeptical of the official version of events. He tested Black’s gun and disagrees that it could fire if dropped.

 

“I dropped it at least 20 or 30 times on asphalt, with blanks,” Corter said. “I took it several different heights all the way up to three feet, slamming it on the ground. It never fired.  I’m very gun knowledgeable. I reload bullets and I make shells. I came back and when the CPR and police got there, those guys’ story had changed several times in the last 10 minutes.”

 

The three men gave accounts to the Sheriff’s Department, stating that Black and Kelly had split up to go hunting on the adjacent Double Diamond Ranch, where pig hunting was a popular part of nighttime activities with Kelly and several friends, who had access to a trailer on the Kelly property.  However, on video and audio interviews, there are several inconsistencies. Kelly initially told police responding to the scene that he wasn’t carrying a weapon while hunting with Black, but later he changed his story and said he was.

 

Autopsy results indicated that Black’s body may have been dragged through a stream which adjoined the area where he was shot. But the story given by the men there maintained that he was not.  The men also gave conflicting times as to their arrival at the property on Dec. 30, ranging from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.  In his audio interview, Tourville states that Black never drank. But his mother describes Black as a “typical Marine” who did otherwise.

 

Vern Butler managed the Double Diamond Ranch and owned several parcels of land where the wild pigs roamed. He claims the contingent of people frequenting the area for nighttime parties and hunts were a constant source of trespassing onto his properties to hunt for pigs, and drug usage.

 

“Those kids, Kelly and his friends, I’ve talked to them in the middle of the day and they look like they’re talking to the guy behind you,” said Butler, who spent 30 years with the California Highway Patrol before retiring.   Butler says he found a blood trail from the creek to the top of the hill where the men say Black was shot. He believes Black was carrying a pig on his back, was mistaken for a pig in the darkness, and shot.

 

Webster hired Gene Hayes, a former cop and Orangevale private investigator, to investigate her son’s death.  “I would tell you what I’d tell anyone else about it; there wasn’t anything provable,” Hayes said. “But if I’d investigated the case that way when I was a policeman, I would have probably gotten chewed out by my supervisor.”

 

Like any grieving parent, Evelyn Webster says she’s still hoping to find out what happened.  “He was a good kid. And he was my son,” she said.