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Hunter admits he left 13-month-old in SUV

| Friday, Nov. 3, 2006

A Butler County man who went hunting, leaving his 13-month-old son inside a sport utility vehicle with a loaded shotgun allegedly pointed at him, pleaded guilty Thursday to child endangerment.

Michael D. Kopera, 41, of Evans City, was arrested Jan. 5 in Hampton after a police officer found Kopera's parked Ford Explorer along a road near the woods. The officer saw Kopera's son, Jerrett, locked inside the vehicle with no jacket or shoes.

It was 37 degrees and raining lightly at the time, court records state.

Kopera told officers that he wrapped his son in a camouflage jacket and took the boy with him into the woods for the hunt. He laid his son down in the leaves before he shot the deer, according to court records.

Kopera said he then took his son back to the vehicle so he could retrieve the deer.

"Taking a 13-month-old hunting doesn't make any sense to me," Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donald E. Machen told Kopera.

Kopera replied that he eats the venison.

"You're missing the point. You left a child in a car for whatever reason, and you left that scene," Machen said. "I'm quite amazed (child welfare workers) closed their investigation without further counseling."

Butler County Children and Youth Services conducted an investigation, according to testimony. The agency did not return a call yesterday.

Kopera said after the hearing that he could see the vehicle from the woods and the gun, while in the vehicle, was not pointed at his son.

"No law says you can't take your son in the woods. The judge might disagree with that. My wife and I grew up hunting," Kopera said. "I'd do anything to protect my son. It was the safest place he could be. One, he was with me, and two, I was armed."

According to an affidavit:

After spending 20 minutes at the vehicle, the Hampton officer spotted Kopera dragging a body bag containing the deer from the woods. He used a bone saw to saw off the antlers and cut off the legs at the lowest joint to fit in the bag.

When Kopera opened the rear of the Explorer, the officer noticed a loaded shotgun in the rear of the vehicle with the barrel facing toward the seat where the boy was seated less than 18 inches away.

Kopera shot the buck 108 yards from a home, under the 150-yard legal safety limit, said Gary Fujak, a conservation officer with the state Game Commission. Killing the deer was illegal because buck season had ended, Fujak said.

Kopera said the kill was a mistake because he didn't see the antlers, which were a five-point.

Kopera pleaded guilty in exchange for probation. Machen, however, did not immediately accept the plea agreement and will sentence Kopera, who faces up to a year in jail, on Feb. 1.

In addition to child endangerment, Kopera pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of wildlife.

Machen released Kopera on his original 10 percent of $5,000 bond and, as a condition, ordered him not to hunt or touch any of his guns.

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