Allegedly drunken man misses deer, shoots woman in head

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Lee Joseph Ryals, 34, of Ottumwa faces charges of possessing a firearm as a felon, reckless use of a firearm, hunting without a hunting license, shooting at a deer after legal hunting hours, attempting to take a deer illegally and possession of a prohibited rifle while hunting deer in connection with a Jan. 4 incident in which a stray bullet struck a woman in her kitchen.

WAPELLO COUNTY, Iowa — The Wapello County Sheriff’s office was called to the Ottumwa Regional Hospital Friday, Jan. 4 about 7:45 p.m. on the report of a female with a gunshot wound to the back of her head.

Deputies found that Janet Wright, 73, suffered a gunshot wound to the head while she was in her kitchen, cleaning her stovetop. Wright told investigators she heard a loud noise and felt pain to the back of her head. She discovered she was bleeding heavily from a head wound and immediately drove herself to the hospital.

Doctors later removed a bullet from Wright’s head.

After further investigation, Wapello County Deputies arrested Lee Joseph Ryals, 34, who was staying in a camper at 8716 100th Ave., about one mile east of Ottumwa. Deputies learned Ryals fired a rifle at a deer from the front deck of the residence about 7 p.m. The round missed the deer, traveled across a field and across 100th Avenue and strick Wright in the head.

The Wapello County Sheriff’s office charged Ryals with possessing a firearm as a felon and reckless use of a firearm, both Class D felonies under the Iowa criminal Code. The Wapello County Sheriff’s office referred the illegal hunting incident to the Iowa Department of Natural Resorces (DNR).

DNR Conservation Officers conducted an investigation into the incident Jan. 5 and learned that Ryals was allegedly intoxicated when he shot at the deer. The firearm was determined to be a 30-30 rifle.

Conservation officers also determined the round that struck Wright traveled 123.5 yards before it entered her home through a living room window and traveled the length of the house before striking her in the back of the head.

DNR Conservation Officers subsequently charged Ryals with hunting without a hunting license, shooting at a deer after legal hunting hours, attempting to take a deer illegally and possession of a prohibited rifle while hunting deer.

*A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

1 COMMENT

  1. The woman was very lucky. My guess is the distance, the window and the length of the house brought the velocity of the round down such that it did not kill her. 30-30s are man killers. Whatever else can be said, I am not unfamiliar with that area. It’s generally quite pretty and pleasant northeast of Ottumwa, particularly where it’s wooded. Usually quiet and a good place to retire around there. The country roads are quite nice for Sunday driving.

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