TURNER — A pest-control contractor who was shooting at vermin in a Moark Egg Farm barn on Monday afternoon mortally shot a farmhand, according Assistant Attorney General William Stokes. The farmhand died en route to the hospital.
“It’s not intentional,” Stokes said shortly after returning from the massive egg farm that stretches over several acres in the small Androscoggin County town located about 10 miles north of Lewiston.
“The employee was wounded as another worker was shooting a .22-caliber rifle to kill rodents and stray chickens inside one of the farm’s chicken barns, that was being cleaned out,” said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. “The victim, who is 57, collapsed attempting to leave the barn and died as he was being transported by ambulance to a Lewiston hospital.”
Stokes, who leads the criminal division in the Maine attorney general’s office, said the pest control contractor who fired the gun has not been charged. He was hired by Moark and travels from farm to farm cleaning barns and was with another local farm employee when the shooting occurred.
“It does not appear that they were even aware what happened,” Stokes said. “As far as we know, they did not see him.”
The name of the man who died has not been released because his relatives live out of state and have not been notified, McCausland said. Police have traced his family to Texas, but have yet to contact them, Stokes said late Tuesday.
While the contractor was using the gun to kill pests and stray chickens in Barn 51, “the third individual — the victim — at some point came into that barn and suffered a gunshot wound,” the assistant attorney general said.
“There was a blood trail,” Stokes said. “He went quite a distance from where he was shot, through some other barns, and collapsed in Barn 49 and was found by another employee.”
Investigators are not sure when he was shot or when he collapsed, Stokes said.
A team of Maine State Police detectives spent Monday evening at the farm interviewing employees and investigating the circumstances, he said.
“It is a massive complex,” McCausland said.
Before a new flock is brought into a barn, the previous chickens need to be removed and the entire barn cleaned to maintain health standards, Stokes said.
“You can’t put that stray chicken in with the new flock,” he said, explaining that there are health and safety issues with mixing egg laying flocks.
The state medical examiner’s office in Augusta was expected to perform an autopsy on the victim Tuesday.
Details about the shooter will be released when the deceased’s name is released, McCausland and Stokes said.
The farm is the former DeCoster Egg Farm. Moark LLC, a subsidiary of Land O’ Lakes, signed a long-term lease purchase deal on the old DeCoster Egg Farm at the end of 2011 and assumed operations.
“We are cooperating with local law enforcement as they continue their investigation,” Land O’ Lakes spokeswoman Trish Scorpio said Tuesday in an email. “Additionally, we are launching our own investigation into this incident.”
“Our thoughts are with this employee’s family, friends and coworkers during this difficult time,” Scorpio said.
The Moark farm is owned, in part, by food giant Land O' Lakes.
The farm was formerly owned by Austin "Jack" DeCoster and was known as DeCoster Egg Farm.
Moark LLC, a subsidiary of Land O’ Lakes, signed a long-term lease purchase deal on the old DeCoster Egg Farm at the end of 2011 and assumed operations.
Moark also operates egg farms in California, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio and Massachusetts.
The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration is also investigating, an agency specialist in Augusta said.
OSHA's Karen Billups said the death resulting from an injury at the workplace prompted the federal investigation.
She said OSHA could not say whether the use of firearms at the egg farms was a common practice in Maine.
"That's part of what we are investigating," Billups said.
BDN writer Alex Barber and Sun Journal staff contributed to this report