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Cheney Shooting Victim: Accidents Happen

The hunter shot by Dick Cheney said Friday that "accidents do and will happen" and said he is sorry for all the hullabaloo and scrutiny the incident has brought upon the vice president and his family.

"This past weekend encompassed all of us in a cloud of misfortune and a sadness that is not easy to explain, especially to those who are not familiar with the great sport of quail hunting," said Austin attorney Harry Whittington, who was discharged from the hospital Friday. "We all assume certain risks in whatever we do ... accidents do and will happen and that's what happened."

He added: "My family and I are deeply sorry for all Vice President Cheney and his family had to deal with this week. ...We hope he will continue to come to Texas and seek the relaxation he deserves."

Whittington's appearance in front of a Corpus Christi hospital in Texas was his first since the 78-year-old was accidentally shot in the face, neck and chest by the vice president during a quail-hunting trip last weekend. He did not answer questions.

"I regret I couldn't be here earlier so you could see what a lucky person I am," Whittington told reporters.

Doctors have said in recent days that Whittington has been in great spirits and anxious to get out of the hospital.

Dr. David Blanchard, the hospital's chief of emergency care, said Whittington was being released Friday because of "his excellent health," but added that Whittington wasn't answering questions because "he is not 100 percent."

Cheney kept a previously scheduled speech to the Wyoming Legislature on Friday and expected to stay for the weekend at his home there. He got a standing ovation in the Wyoming chamber when he arrived.

Before launching into this predetermined speech, Cheney said the warm welcome was much needed, since it had been a "long week."

"Thankfully, Harry Whittington is on the mend and doing very well," he added.

Whittington told police that the shooting "was just an accident" and reassured investigators alcohol was not involved, according a county sheriff's report released Thursday.

In Texas, "explained foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt and everyone was wearing the proper hunting attire of blaze orange," reported Kenedy County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel Jr.

The county sheriff's office closed its investigation without filing any charges. The department's report supported Cheney's account of the accident.

Cheney told an investigator that he did not see his hunting partner while aiming for a bird. The report included the first public account from Whittington, interviewed from his hospital bed Monday.

Whittington was hit with shotgun pellets in the face, neck and chest. He was in stable condition in a Corpus Christi hospital after suffering a mild heart attack caused by a shotgun pellet that traveled to his heart. On Friday, he had what appeared to be a line of scarring on his upper right eyelid and scrapes on his neck.

The sheriff's report said Whittington declined the deputies' request to record the interview because he said his voice was raspy. Before a nurse asked the officers to "hurry up so Mr. Whittington could rest," he repeatedly insisted the shooting "was just an accident" and expressed concern that all the media attention would give hunting in Texas a bad image, the report said.

In Washington, President Bush said critics are drawing "the wrong conclusion about a tragic accident" when they say the delayed disclosure of Cheney's hunting mishap is an indicator of an overly secretive White House.

Commenting about Saturday's accident for the first time, Bush said Thursday that Cheney handled the situation "just fine."

"I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave," Bush said, calling it "strong and powerful."

Bush described Cheney as extremely distraught since he shot Whittington.

"The vice president was involved in a terrible accident and it profoundly affected him," Bush said during a photo opportunity with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. "Yesterday when he was here in the Oval Office, I saw the deep concern he had about a person who he wounded."

The administration was eager to put to rest a public relations firestorm arising from Cheney's failure to disclose Saturday's accident until the next day. The White House press corps has complained that the White House took too long to put out a statement on the incident, while Democrats have used that controversial delay to fuel their argument that the Bush White House needs more transparency and openness.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada was among those who used the situation to suggest the administration needs to be less secretive.

And Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican and Vietnam war veteran, told The Omaha World-Herald, "If he'd been in the military, he would have learned gun safety."

Cheney told his story in an interview Wednesday with FOX News Channel; it was his only public statement on the accident. Cheney said it was "one of the worst days of my life," while accepting full blame for the accident and defending his decision to delay the public disclosure until the next day.

For his first public appearance since the shooting, Cheney chose the Wyoming Legislature, where in 1965 he worked as an intern and met Alan Simpson, then a rookie state legislator who would go on to be the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate.

Ten years later, after doing postgraduate work in political science, Cheney went to Washington and served as White House chief of staff to President Ford. He was elected in 1978 to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving until 1989, when he resigned to become secretary of defense under the first President Bush.

Cheney, who was spending the weekend in his home state, remains popular in Wyoming. He received a loud ovation four years ago when he last addressed the legislature.

About a dozen people waited outside the Capitol in subzero temperatures to protest Cheney's appearance Friday.

In his speech, Cheney spent most of his time reminiscing about Wyoming politicians, including his time as the state's sole representative in the U.S. House.

"For better than a decade, I proudly answered to the title, 'the gentleman from Wyoming,"' Cheney said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.