Thursday, August 20, 2009

In the Aftermath of Hunting Tragedy, Howard Beach Man Awaits His Sentencing

By Patricia Adams

A tragic hunting accident in November of 2008 claimed the life of 16-month-old Charly Skala when the toddler was struck with a bullet fired by Howard Beach resident Eddie Taibi. Almost one year later, Taibi broke his silence and spoke with The Forum in an exclusive interview.

With more than thirty years of hunting experience, using bows and guns for all of his adult life, Taibi had never before encountered any problems. He had travelled to North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia - the list goes on and on — to hunt. But while hunting at a friend’s 40-acre property in Sullivan County near Swan on November 16, something went terribly wrong.

After having spent the two days prior hunting in rainy and windy weather, Taibi and a buddy decided to call friend, Butch Froelich to see about hunting on his nearby property, which was flatter, more open and okay to hunt in wind and rain. The landowner told the men they were welcome to come on over and go about their hunting.

They got to the tree stands they were to use from about 2 p.m. and around 4 p.m. Taibi turned to his right and saw four does feeding. “They were positioned like the four corners of a diamond. Three were feeding heavily but the lead doe stared back at me,” Taibi said, “and then repeatedly looked toward a brush pile.”

Further to the right he spied a buck approaching the lead doe. Taibi looked through his binoculars noting a three point antler rack on one side of the bucks head. It was a legal deer. Putting the binoculars away, Taibi lined up his rifle and fired once. He watched as the buck collapsed.

Climbing down off the tree stand, the hunter walked parallel to where the buck had fallen. About 50-60 yards out Taibi saw the buck was gone. Knowing that deer are habitual by nature he turned to look back toward where he had originally spotted his target. About 20 yards to the right, he saw the buck again. Lining up another shot, Taibi fired. But this shot, according to a post mortem necropsy performed on the animal, missed.

Minutes later Taibi said he heard screaming coming from the top of the hill. “Who’s shooting? The voice screamed. “Who the f—k is shooting.” Taibi yelled back that it was him. “I ran toward the guy,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think.” When he met up with the man who had screamed for the shooter, Taibi learned that the bullet fired at the buck had struck the man’s toddler niece in a nearby trailer.

Amidst the frantic commotion, Froelich pulled up to the tragic scene. The property owner told reporters later that Taibi collapsed at the side of his jeep in tears totally overwhelmed after learning that a little girl had been hit with the bullet.

Taibi was arrested and taken to a local jail where he was questioned by investigators and police. After a while, one of the detectives told Taibi he had to leave the room and would be back in a little while. Taibi waited for nearly 45 minutes. Upon his return, the detective told Taibi that Charly Skala had died at the hospital.

“I never felt that way before in my life,” Taibi says as he remembered the moment. “Not even in 2006 when I lost my own daughter.” Suddenly, the remorse and the sorrow in Eddie Taibi’s eyes were clearly defined. Two years before, his own daughter Carmela died from cancer. “She was 12 years and 326 days old,” he said. He was with her when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, known as an astrocytoma. No, Eddie Taibi was no stranger to parents losing children, he knew all about it. Carmela died one month and two days before a bullet from her father’s gun accidentally killed Charly Skala.

Taibi’s trial was to start back in June. A jury comprised of 9 hunters and 3 non hunters; a good mix for the defense. Ballistic experts, forensic photographers and medical experts were all hired to work on Taibi’s case. On the morning of June 15, with the trial set to begin, Eddie Taibi walked into the courtroom.

“I remember vividly. The family was there,” he explains. “They were crying already. Sobbing. There were boxes of tissues.” Taibi headed past the rows of seats in the courtroom, approaching the table where he would sit as the defendant. He called to his lawyer, Patrick Brackley. “I need to talk to you outside,” Taibi told the attorney. He said he knew from looking at his face that Brackley knew something was up.

In the hallway outside the courtroom, Taibi stunned his lawyer. “I will not go through with this trial,” he said. Brackley bristled. “Eddie you have to. We’re going to beat this thing.” But Taibi had reached his resolve. “I want you to plead guilty and try and get as good of an arrangement as you can. But I cannot put these people through the pain of a trial.” Taibi told his attorney, “I don’t want to see the pictures and the blood and them crying. I don’t want to bring pain. I want to take it away if I can.”

Taibi is a man who well understands a pain not known to many. When asked what it was like to have been involved in an accident which claimed the life of another parent’s child, he answers with a question. “Do you know what a child is called when they lose their parents?” Taibi doesn’t wait for an answer. “You call them orphans.” The hunter’s follow-up question came right after, “Do you know what you call a parent who loses a child?” This time he does wait. But an answer doesn’t come. He looks at you, finally he says, “You don’t know the word because there are no words to describe a parent who loses a child.” A deep sigh comes from Eddie Taibi.

When hunting season begins in October this year, it will be marked in one upstate courtroom by the sentencing of Edward Taibi on the charges of second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Charly Skala. Taibi could conceivably get up to eight years in a state penitentiary. He could get as little as two years, with possible parole.

Regardless of whatever prison stay Judge Frank LaBuda decides upon, it will likely sit without the weight of that already self imposed by Taibi. “Every time I open or close my eyes, I think of what happened on that day,” says Taibi. “I think of that child and how I can’t bring her back. I think of her family and how one shot changed their lives forever. That is what I live with every waking minute. I accept total responsibility and for whatever time the judge decides I should wake up in prison, then so be it.”

Taibi says that although there was absolutely no criminal intent he wishes the judge would allow him to speak at hunting safety awareness groups about the consequences of accidents such as this. When asked if he will hunt again, Taibi slowly shakes his head. “No. That’s not an option.”

No comments: