Accidental shooting claims life of Meeker man

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RBC I Rio Blanco County Coroner Dr. Albert Krueger said “a gunshot wound to the abdomen” caused the accidental death of James “Jeb” Berthelson, 32, of Meeker. The Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office communication center received a 911 call at 11:32 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5. The caller said a man had accidentally shot himself in the upper leg area. The shooting occurred in a rural area about 40 miles northeast of Meeker on the border of the White River National Forest. The nearest ranch house, which is 20 miles northeast of Meeker on RBC Road 42, was approximately 30 minutes from the accident scene.RBCSO deputies, Colorado State troopers and a Meeker Fire and Rescue ambulance responded, arriving at the ranch house at approximately the same time. An Air Life Helicopter from Saint Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction was requested and dispatched to the ranch house.Rescue crews found the victim had lost a large quantity of blood and was unresponsive when they arrived. They immediately began performing CPR. Medical personnel from both the Meeker ambulance crew and the Air Life Flight crew continued efforts to revive and stabilize the victim until 1:44 a.m., Aug. 6, 2011. Berthelson was pronounced dead at the scene and later taken to Grand Junction for an autopsy. Officers questioned Neil James Joy, 30, who was with Berthelson at the time of the shooting, about the circumstances surrounding the incident. Joy stated Berthelson was attempting to shoot a lock off a gate when the bullet ricocheted and struck him in the leg. Joy then moved Berthelson into the bed of the pickup and transported him to the ranch house.Upon returning to the scene the morning of Aug. 6, officers determined the scene had been disturbed by “an unknown number of individuals.” Joy accompanied officers to the scene of the shooting and again said Berthelson had been shooting at the chain (on the gate) before Berthelson collapsed.On the evening of Aug. 6, forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kurtzman relayed the findings from the autopsy to the RBCSO. Kurtzman’s findings were determined to be inconsistent with the explanation that Joy gave as to how the victim sustained the fatal gunshot wound. Officers brought Joy to the RBC Sheriff’s Office on Monday, Aug. 9 for a voluntary interview. He again provided a detailed account of the shooting, maintaining that Berthelson suffered the fatal injury upon firing at the chain on the gate. He stated he and Berthelson had been drinking and were both very intoxicated when the shooting occurred. The questioning agent told Joy that “he needed to tell the truth” because his story was not supported by the evidence found in the autopsy. According to the agent’s report, Joy “became very quiet and soon began to get emotional.” He them provided the agent with a different version of how the shooting occurred.According to police, both men shot at the chain with Joy’s 10mm pistol. Joy turned to walk back to the truck and began emptying the live rounds from the pistol. The gun discharged. Joy said Berthelson fell to the ground. Joy reportedly told the officer in the interview he lied about the incident because he was “scared” and “confused” and stated the incident wouldn’t have happened if he had not been so intoxicated. Joy was arrested on a felony charge of manslaughter and taken into custody by the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office and released after posting a $10,000 bond.