A 48-year-old Pequot Lakes man pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter Friday in Crow Wing County District Court for the Nov. 8 shooting death of Jeffrey Dean Ford, who was deer hunting in Timothy Township in northwestern Crow Wing County.
Crow Wing County District Court Judge David Ten Eyck accepted Thomas Henry Ustruck's guilty plea. He sentenced Ustruck to 10 years supervised probation with several stipulations.
The stipulations, which were part of the plea agreement, include that Ustruck will not be able to possess any firearms, he must refrain from alcohol and controlled substances and from any establishments that serve alcohol, he must pay a minimal fine and he must have no contact with Ford's family, unless the family contacts him.
Ustruck, who was dressed in blue jeans, a shirt and a light coat, told Ten Eyck that he was sorry. Ustruck's mother, Irene, who had tears in her eyes, sat quietly in the back of the courtroom.
Attorney David Hermerding, Crow Wing County public defender representing Ustruck, said the shooting is a terrible tragedy.
Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan also said it was a tragic incident. Ryan said he has been in touch with Ford's family members, who were unable to attend the court hearing.
Ryan said that Jerry Ford, the brother of Jeffrey Ford, and Kristi Ford, Jeffrey Ford's widow, were in favor of the plea agreement. Ryan said Jerry Ford told him that he hopes this case will cause other hunters to be more careful before they shoot their firearms.
Ryan said after the court hearing in an interview that Ustruck did not intend to kill his hunting partner. He said it was a tragedy for both families and Ustruck is "extremely remorseful." Ryan also said that the Ford family didn't want Ustruck to go to prison, but they wanted him to be held accountable for what happened.
According to the criminal complaint:
On Nov. 7 Ustruck and Ford discussed which deer stands they would be using the next day. On Nov. 8 Ustruck arrived at the hunting property after Ford and proceeded to his deer stand.
Before reaching his deer stand, Ustruck heard two to three shots being fired and stopped to see if any deer were coming. Seeing nothing, Ustruck continued toward his deer stand.
When he arrived at his deer stand Ustruck heard a noise and saw movement to the west. Believing it to be a deer, he fired his 30-30 lever action rifle. He then heard moaning from the direction in which he fired his rifle.
Ustruck went toward the moaning and found Ford, lying on the ground and dressed in blaze orange, suffering a gunshot wound to his chest. Ustruck and Ford both called 911. Ford was airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital, where he later died.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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