November 07, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

Everything to this point suggests it was a really unfortunate accident, Sgt. Randy Crutcher of the Oregon State Police said of the Oct. 24 shooting death of a Medford hunter.

Crutcher led the investigation into the death of Keith Ashley, 56, who was struck in the thigh with a bullet.

Oregon State Police crime investigators reconstructed the scene in the Ukiah Unit along the Union County border.

What they found, Crutcher said, was that another member of Ashleys hunting party though not his son hunting very near Ashley, had fired a rifle at an elk and missed the animal. The bullet ended up hitting Ashley.

The distance between the shooter and Ashley, investigators said, was just over 200 yards and in a direct line.

No one besides Ashley and the shooter were in the immediate area, state police determined, although the unit on the opening day of the season was a popular area.

The hunter who fired the shot has been interviewed and his weapon was checked, Crutcher said.

The hunter told police he had spotted the elk in an open area and tracked it in his sights until the animal moved into a brushy area. He told officers that he felt he was shooting into a solid background if the shot missed.

The shot instead went through some brush and struck a small dry branch that may have slowed the bullet but didnt deflect it before it hit Ashley, investigators determined,

It was just one of those things, Crutcher said. Gosh, what bad luck.

The member of the hunting party who fired the shot will not be charged with any crime, the OSP sergeant said.