Harry Whittington, shot by Cheney in hunting mishap, dies at 95
Bloomberg News February 6, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Harry Whittington, the attorney from Texas who survived a hunting accident in 2006 when then-US Vice President Dick Cheney shot him in the face while tracking a passing bird, has died. He was 95.
He died early Saturday morning at home, the New York Times reported, citing his wife.
A longtime Republican supporter, Whittington attracted global attention after he was sprayed with more than 200 pellets from Cheney’s shotgun during a quail hunt on a private ranch in south Texas on Feb. 11, 2006. With wounds to the face, neck and torso, the 78-year-old later suffered a heart attack and a collapsed lung in the hospital, where he spent a week.
Cheney’s gaffe coincided with declining approval ratings for President George W. Bush’s administration, as it wrestled with an escalating war in Iraq and leaks about a domestic eavesdropping program carried out by the National Security Agency.
The damage to Cheney’s image was compounded by a delay in commenting on the shooting. Four days passed before he spoke publicly about the accident, citing it as “one of the worst days of my life” in an interview with Fox News.
“I’m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend,” the vice president, then 65, said in the interview. “You can’t blame anybody else.”
The incident occurred when Cheney, accompanied by then-U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Pamela Willeford, turned to shoot a bird that had flown toward Whittington, who was looking for a downed quail about 30 yards away, according to police.
After receiving treatment from Cheney’s Secret Service agents, Whittington was taken to a hospital in Kingsville, Texas. Doctors decided his injuries were severe enough to transport him by helicopter to a hospital in Corpus Christi.
Whittington later offered an apology for his role as the victim.
“My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week,” he said in a statement when he was released from the hospital. “We send our love and respect to them as they deal with situations that are much more serious than what we’ve had this week.”
Whittington left the hospital with about 30 pellets still in his body, including one near his heart and another in his eye socket, as doctors considered their removal too risky.
The hunting mishap provided fodder for American comedians. Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno and David Letterman lampooned Cheney’s mistake, portraying the vice president as a gun-toting renegade who dished out such treatment to anyone opposed to his political views.
“I think Cheney is starting to lose it,” Leno said in his standup routine. “After he shot the guy, he screamed, ‘Anyone else want to call domestic wiretapping illegal?’”
Even President Bush managed to find humor in the matter when he met with the U.S. Military Academy’s 2005 men’s championship rifle team at the White House.
“If you happen to be walking around and you run into the vice president, you might give him a few pointers,” he said.
Whittington was born on March 3, 1927, in Henderson, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) from Dallas. His father had a dry-goods store and a cotton gin, both of which he lost after four successive crop failures during the Great Depression, according to a 2010 interview with the Washington Post.
After graduating with a law degree from the University of Texas in 1950, Whittington practiced law in Austin and invested in commercial real estate in the state’s capital. He also snubbed his family’s Democratic loyalties by supporting Republican candidates, managing John Tower’s successful race for a Senate seat in Texas in 1961. Whittington also worked for George H.W. Bush’s unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1964.
His access to Republican leaders landed him a job on the state’s prison board from 1979 until 1985. During that time, he held public hearings on the system’s drug scandals, cronyism, no-bid contracts and the disciplining of prisoners. He also served on the Texas Funeral Service Commission and was chairman of the state’s public finance authority board.
With his wife, Mercedes, Whittington had four daughters. He lived on Lake Austin, close to the homes of tennis star Andy Roddick and Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong.
“We all assume certain risks in whatever we do, whatever we pursue,” Whittington said in 2006. “And regardless of how experienced, careful and dedicated we are, accidents do and will happen.”
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