Family of Wyoming boy killed while hunting reaches $1 million settlement

Hunting death investigation ends

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - The family of a 13-year-old boy fatally shot while hunting squirrels has reached a $1 million settlement with the Christian organization that hosted the February outing in Oceana County.

The wrongful death claim was filed in Kent County Probate Court following the Feb. 18 shooting death of William ‘Billy’ Gort Jr., who lived with his mother in Wyoming. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, the accused shooter, 62-year-old Roger Erick Hoeker, was charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing Gort with a gunshot to the head.

Gort was hunting squirrels with Hoeker and another boy when he was struck with a round fired from a .22-caliber rifle. It happened on state land in Oceana County’s Greenwood Township. Gort and his friend were wearing orange hunter safety gear at the time. Gort was pronounced dead at a Muskegon hospital.

According to the wrongful death claim, the bullet struck Gort in the back of the head and lodged near the front of his skull. Three days after the shooting, the boys’ mother, Cassy Stevens, contacted attorney Gerald R. Stahl to pursue a wrongful death claim against Hoeker and Christianity Outdoors, a youth outreach program with a focus on the outdoors.

According to the Christianity Outdoors website, Hoeker serves as director. The address provided for Christianity Outdoors is also Hoeker’s home address on Maplewood Drive in Jenison.

“Roger Hoeker claimed the incident occurred as a result of a ricochet of the bullet, however, the expert hired by Mr. Stahl disputed that claim,’’ according to the wrongful death claim filed in probate court.

The insurance company representing Christianity Outdoors agreed to pay the estate of William Gort Jr. $1 million “as full settlement,’’ probate court records show. The accord was approved in late June.

Under the settlement, Cassy Stevens will receive nearly $425,000 and Gort’s young sister will receive $150,000.  The Law Office of Gerald R. Stahl will receive more than $335,000, which covers fees and costs. The remainder will be split between four other family members.

Meanwhile, Hoeker is set to appear in Oceana County District Court on Aug. 14 for a probable cause conference on the felony charge. He remains free on bond.

Hoeker, who is listed as a Michigan hunter safety instructor, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

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