Grand Jury Indicts 10 in Antelope Slaughter
A Dallam County grand jury has returned felony indictments on 10 individuals who allegedly participated in the killing of about two-dozen antelope last December in the Texas Panhandle.
The slaughter was the single largest illegal killing of game in Texas in many years and could be the single largest illegal killing of antelope within the United States ever recorded, according to state and federal law enforcement officials.
"This type of slaughter is not indicative of what I know sport hunters to be," said Roy Lawrence, TPW Law Enforcement Division deputy director. "I don't even remotely classify these individuals as hunters. I think game warden John Brooks is to be commended. He has done an outstanding job in the lead office during this investigation."
The indictments were handed down as a result of an intensive investigation lasting almost a year to the day after the discovery of about 24 dead antelope on grassland pasture west of Kerrick, Texas. On the afternoon of Dec. 9, 2000, TPW game wardens learned of the incident from firefighters who responded to a grass fire that may be related to the antelope killings. When wardens arrived on the scene, they found evidence that some of the antelope had been run over with vehicles, resulting in broken legs and other serious injuries. Some antelope had been shot at close range with shotguns.
All 10 of the alleged participants were indicted on a charge of taking wildlife resources without the consent of the landowner, a 3rd degree felony due to the use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a crime. The maximum punishment per person for this violation includes a jail sentence of two to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 and restitution for the value of the game animals killed.
The indictments include four men from Mississippi who traveled to Texas to take part in the annual pheasant hunt, five people from the Texas Panhandle and one from the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Those indicted from Texas and Oklahoma are: Wes Avent, 26, of Amarillo; Billy Heath Collums, 23, and his wife Kenna Collums, 20, both of Kerrick; Leonard Hawkins, 40, of Kerrick; Brady Schoonover, 31, of Kerrick; and Paul Wells, 46, of Boise City, Okla.
The men from Mississippi are: Cavin T. Foster, 21, of Pontotoc, Miss.; Jason Holladay, 24, of Houlka, Miss.; Clayton Watkins, 23, of Van Fleet, Miss.; and Michael Wilson, 24, of Houlka, Miss.
According to District Attorney David Green whose area includes Dallam County, the suspects from Texas have turned themselves in and arrangements have been made for the Mississippi men to voluntarily surrender. Bond has been set at $5,000 for each.
Investigating agencies included TPW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the 69th District Attorney's Office and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries & Parks.
TPW biologists estimate the current population of pronghorn antelope in Texas at 11,000, down from a 20-year high of 24,500 in 1987. Officials attribute the decline to a long-term drought that has gripped the state in recent years, particular in the Trans Pecos region.
Antelope harvest in Texas is managed conservatively by TPW through a permit system, based on estimated population surpluses. The antelope hunting season this year ran from Sept. 29-Oct. 7. About 100 antelope permits were issued to landowners in Dallam County, according to Dumas-based TPW wildlife biologist David Cook. Landowners can offer the permits to hunters, charging $1,000 to $2,500 for an antelope hunt.