PA: Lawrence County fatality shows treestand dangers

New Castle, Pa. – Tragedy marred the opening weekend of archery
deer season when a hunter died in a treestand accident in North
Beaver, Lawrence County.

William Henry, 67, of Enon Valley, became the second
Pennsylvania man to die in a treestand incident this fall.

Officials say Henry suffocated after he became wedged between
his stand and the tree, helplessly suspended by the rope that was
intended to save him.

“His arms were up by his shoulders and his weight was pushing
him downward, and he couldn’t reach a knife to cut himself free,”
said Lawrence County coroner Russell Noga. “The cause of death was
positional asphyxiation. He couldn’t expand his lung capacity to
breath.”

Henry’s body was discovered Sunday morning, Oct. 3, after his
children failed to reach him by cell phone, and became concerned.
Henry had left the home where he lived alone around 3:30 the
previous afternoon, said Pennsylvania state police trooper Harry
Gustafson.

“His son lives in Ohio and called him Saturday evening to see
how he was doing and there was no answer, so he figured he was
maybe tracking a deer,” Gustafson said.

“When he didn’t get an answer again Sunday morning, he called
his sister, who lives locally, and she drove to the field where her
father liked to hunt. She found his car and called us. When we
arrived, we advised her to go home while we searched the area. We
found his body a short time later.”

Henry appeared to have set up his stand properly, and was the
victim of a “freak accident,” said Noga, who tried to reconstruct
what most likely happened.

“His bow and arrow were lying on the ground, so it appears he
dropped them – which is common – and in his haste to retrieve them,
lost his footing in the bottom part of his double-climber
stand.

“Once your feet come out of that webbing, it’s hard to get them
back in,” he said. “Without support, he went down through the
opening in the stand with the strap of his safety harness by his
shoulder blades, attached to the tree.”

Gustafson said Henry had another stand set up in a different
tree, but was hunting on private land at the edge of a soybean
field, off Crum Road.

The stand where the accident occurred was an older, two-piece
climbing model, Gustafson said. “The bars around the tree were
smooth. They didn’t have any teeth for gripping into the tree, like
some of the newer models.”

Both Gustafson and Noga hunt with bows themselves and said they
have seen their share of tree-stand accidents and close calls. They
urge fellow hunters to make safety a priority in choosing and
erecting treestands.

“Buy your stand from a knowledgeable dealer and watch the video
that comes with it,” said Gustafson, whose own preference is a
gripping stand, or one designed to bite into the bark of the
tree.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission also urges treestand safety,
advising hunters to choose models recommended by the Tree Stand
Manufacturers Association and to use them properly.

While the commission does not regulate treestands, it does
regulate their use on state game lands but not on private
property.

“There’s nothing says you can’t use a stand with teeth on state
game lands, but you can’t damage the tree,” said commission
spokesman Jerry Feaser.

“We’re not talking about the bark, we’re talking about the
cambium layer – the white meat part of the tree – because doing
that makes the tree susceptible to disease and could devalue the
tree for timber purposes.”

“Most of the types of trees you’d choose to put a stand against
wouldn’t be susceptible to the kind of damage that would make a
stand with teeth prohibited.”

The commission recommends hunters wear a full body harness,
Feaser said. “Some restraints wrap around the chest, so if you
fall, it will compress your chest. A full body harness goes around
your legs as well as your chest to distribute the weight. You could
fall and be in a seated position.”

Henry was not the first Pennsylvania hunter to die in a
tree-stand accident this year. York resident Paul Kemper Jr., 55,
died last month after he and his treestand fell 25 feet to the
ground in Darlington, Md., according to Maryland natural resources
police.

An unattached safety harness was reportedly found near Kemper’s
body.

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