HELENA, Mont. – A Montana prosecutor has filed charges against a hitchhiker who authorities say shot himself in the arm on the side of a remote highway in northeastern Montana and then claimed to be the victim of a drive-by shooting.
The charging documents, which were filed Tuesday and released on Thursday, represent the latest chapter in the bizarre story of a struggling photographer who claimed to be randomly shot while traveling the country to put together a book on the kindness of strangers.
Ray Dolin faces several charges, including evidence tampering.
According to the documents, Dolin told authorities that the shooting was a failed attempted suicide. Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier, whose office led the investigation, said he believes Dolin actually shot himself as a publicity stunt.
"From where I stand, I believe that Mr. Dolin came here to further his business as an author and a photographer," Meier sasid. "I don't believe that he came here to kill himself."
Meier declined to elaborate but said there is information that backs his position that will be made public only when the proceedings against Dolin are concluded.
Dolin has not been arrested. Valley County officials said he was last reported to be under care at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Wyoming.
His phone was not accepting messages, and his father did not return a call seeking comment. Meier said Dolin has hired an attorney and both are cooperating with the state.
Meier said he did not know the name of Dolin's attorney, and Valley County Attorney Nickolas Murnion did not return a call for comment on Thursday.
Murnion charged Dolin, 39, of Julian, W.V., with tampering or fabricating physical evidence, false reports to law enforcement authorities and obstructing a police officer. The evidence tampering charge, the most serious, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine if convicted.
Dolin originally told police that he had stopped to eat on the side of U.S. Highway 2 outside Glasgow on June 9 when a maroon pickup truck pulled up with a driver and passenger inside. He said the driver shot him once and drove off.
Dolin, bleeding from the arm, flagged down a passer-by, who called 911.
Investigators later arrested a Washington state man driving a truck that matched the description provided by Dolin.
Dolin could not identify the man or his truck in photo-lineups. Investigators then analyzed the GPS device in the man's truck and concluded that he had not been in the area at the time of the 911 call to report the shooting, according to Murnion's charging documents.
Investigators went back to the scene of the shooting and discovered a pistol 68 feet away that was registered to Dolin. He bought the gun on June 4, took a bus to Sidney, Mont., then hitchhiked across the eastern part of the state, authorities said.
After his story unraveled, Dolin told an FBI agent that he had come to Montana to shoot himself. Dolin told the agent that his photography business — OneShot Impressions, with the cross-hairs of a rifle scope as its logo — was not doing well and that he was having a hard time in life.
Dolin picked that spot along the side of the highway near a historical marker because it was a beautiful location, according to the charging documents.
He placed the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger, but it misfired. He then aimed it at his heart but accidentally shot himself in the arm. Murnion wrote that Dolin then tossed the gun and stopped the passing motorist for help.
As for the man who was arrested, Dolin told officials that he had never seen him and made up the description of the truck.
"(Dolin) stated he did not want to hurt anyone because of this incident and he was the one who wanted to be hurt," Murnion wrote.
Murnion said Tuesday that he did not expect any problems in getting Dolin back to Montana to face the charges.
Matthew Brown reported from Billings.