Bullet Grazes Deputy's Cruiser

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That's how close a stray bullet came to striking Gila County Sheriff's Deputy Rodney Cronk last week, while he was responding to a report that shots were being fired in the forest.

Cronk was patrolling in a Ford Explorer west of the Tonto Fish Hatchery, near forest roads 289 and 29, when a bullet grazed the rear corner of the cargo compartment.

"At first, I thought it hit the back-seat door on the driver's side," Cronk said. "I got out and looked, and didn't see anything."

He said he rounded up four campers three men and one woman who had nine weapons. They had allegedly been shooting the weapons, which ranged from a .22 caliber to a .50 caliber rifle.

Cronk said he didn't arrest the campers at the time because they weren't shooting near any homes and he didn't find any damage to his truck.

Later, when he was refueling the truck in Payson, however, he found the dent and chipped paint where the bullet had struck head-level nearly six feet behind the driver's seat. Cronk sent out officers to round up the campers and their arsenal.

Cronk turned his report over to the Gila County attorney's office, and formal felony charges may be pending since damage to the vehicle will cost more than $250 to repair. Criminal damage costing more than $250 constitutes a felony.

"We submit our reports and the county attorney decides on the charges," Det. George Ratliff of the Gila County Sheriff's Department said. "What we're probably looking at though are criminal damage and possible misconduct involving a weapon."

The four campers, who were detained at the Gila County Sheriff's Office in Payson for questioning, were released. Their names have not been released, and they have not been charged.

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