Arrest made in hunting death

Four months after family, friends and colleagues said good-bye to Woodbridge deputy police chief, William H. Garfield, who was killed during an apparent hunting accident, an arrest has been made. A lengthy investigation by detectives from the State Police Central District Major Crime Squad, Woodbridge Police Department, New Haven State's Attorney's Office, and the State Department of Environmental Protection ensued since the incident occurred last November 20. The companion who was with Garfield, 60 year old Stephen Gombos of Woodbridge, was arrested on a warrant for Criminally Negligent Homicide on Friday, March 17, 2000.

According to a state police press release by Lieutenant Ralph J. Carpenter, the arrest was the culmination of a lengthy and in-depth investigation. Gombos voluntarily turned himself in to state police detectives at Troop I Barracks in Bethany. He was released on a Written Promise to Appear with a court date of March 31 at the GA # 6 court 121 Elm Street, New Haven.

Connecticut General Statute 53a-58 Criminally Negligent Homicide is a Class A Misdemeanor, which is an offense for which a person may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than one year, and a fine not to exceed $2,000. In order for a person to be convicted of Criminally Negligent Homicide, the accused must cause the death of another person with criminal negligence, except when the death is caused by a motor vehicle.

"Getting the arrest warrant and effecting the arrest is only the beginning of the litigation process. Going through the process of a long litigation has a tendency to re-open wounds that have been trying to heal over the last four months', said Woodbridge police chief, Dennis Phipps.

Fellow colleagues felt a tremendous loss when the accident occurred. Everyone in the law enforcement community that knew and worked with him were devastated. The arrest and pending litigation proceedings will only cause the healing process to linger on.

"This is a tragedy that is close to home, and is going to be a long healing process for both families. I am glad that we are going to be bringing closure to this case", said Chief Phipps. The chief commented on the enormous amount of assistance and hard work that went into the investigation that took almost four months to complete.

"I can't commend the state police and everyone else enough for all their hard work. It has certainly been a tough one", Phipps said.

Gombos retained New Haven-based attorney Ira B. Grudberg early on after the incident happened.

"Mr. Gombos continues to be very distraught and his heart continues to go out to the family. We will enter a not guilty plea. He did not do anything criminal to cause the death of his friend", Grudberg said last Friday afternoon.

Garfield and Gombos were in a wooded area approximately 100 yards from the Litchfield Turnpike, when the incident occurred on November 20. Both men returned to the area to retrieve a deer that had been killed the day before. Garfield was in the process of harvesting the deer when Gombos allegedly shot him.

Garfield was later pronounced dead from a single gunshot while still at the scene of the incident. The men were on a 152-acre site, which is known as the Bishop Estate, and is owned by the town. Hunting on private property requires permission from the owner. Land, except state-owned, is determined as private property. Municipal-owned land is also included as private property. Earlier reports concluded that neither man had received permission to hunt on this parcel of town-owned land.

Area residents and officials have raised concerns over safety. This area, which has undergone residential development in recent years, also has a popular hiking trail and a nearby Boy Scout Camp. Families living in the area want more safety measures in place to prevent accidents and to make sure hunters don't discharge their weapons near homes and recreational areas.

" I feel terrible about the whole situation. We have a draft of an ordinance that will obviously have to have a public hearing and get the public's feedback", said selectwoman Elizabeth Ridinger who is in her first term on the board of selectmen.

The ordinance, which is in its rough draft stage, would, among other things, in the interest of safety encourage landowners to comply with regulations and laws.

"We are trying to encourage people to obey the laws. The bottom line is how we enforce the laws. The policy of the town is to have landowners comply with laws in place already. People want to enjoy the use of the Blue Trail without fear, and I can see their concerns. We want everyone to operate under the auspices of safety and good common sense. People must be responsible for the gun in their hand and where they are pointing it", said Ridinger who praised the town council and state representative Themis Klarides 114 for their instrumental work in obtaining information on state laws.

William H. Garfield, 49, was a Milford resident and served on the Milford Police Department attaining the rank of captain before retiring in 1993. He became the deputy police chief in Woodbridge for six years before his death. Garfield also served in the Navy. He was married and had three children.