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River Shooting Stirs River Law and Property Questions

August 08, 2013
River Shooting Stirs River Law and Property Questions

This past July in Missouri, a landowner shot a man who was taking a pit stop from floating down the Meramec River and killed him. The man had stopped to urinate, and the landowner was upset about people trespassing on his property. The landowner came out with a gun and told the river users to get out, and instead of leaving they argued about property rights. The landowner felt defensive about protecting his property, and the river user felt adamant about telling him he was mistaken, which led to the shooting.

The typical situation was displayed in this case, where people are unsure of which rights apply. Various people in state government gave varying answers for who can go where. Some referenced the vegetation line, others said it depends on whether a river is deemed navigable. The correct answer came from Rob Brandenburg, an agent who covers Crawford County for the Missouri Conservation Department, who said that property lines actually go to the center of the river, but the public’s right to use this property is an easement much like a public road. A property owner owns a county road to the center of the road, for example, but a person can use that road.

This incident shows the importance of not arguing about trespassing while on the river. If confronted by someone, leave, and then distribute river law materials to authorities and landowners in the area.

Comments (12)

  1. Jack M.:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:47 PM

    It would be most helpful to know what legal actions were taken against the shooter in this case. Unless the paddler was physically threatening him it would seem that this was a case of murder, possibly murder with malice.

  2. Terri J.:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:48 PM

    No in this case it was not murder. MO has a firm stand your ground law. No matter if the guy protecting his land was right or wrong and started the argument, if he felh threatened on his land in any way he can kill a trespasser.

  3. Vanessa J.:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:48 PM

    There is public easement under federal law to use the bed and banks of navigable rivers like the Meramec. Therefore, it IS A MURDER.

  4. Jack:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:49 PM

    I just don't get it. Why shoot someone because they are on a river - EVER. The guy should go away just for being so petty.

  5. Vanessa J.:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:50 PM

    Oh, and the murderer, James Crocker, was charged with second-degree murder and jailed on a $650,000 cash-only bond.

  6. jack:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:51 PM

    The "Castle Doctrine" only allows lethal force if the "intent on the intruders mind was to commit violence" or "the offending party posed an imminent threat to the life of another". The intent of the 50 rafters going down the river was to enjoy the day and they stopped on a gravel bar for a break and no one in that party had any weapons. The adjacent landowner came down to the group to confront the rafters and then threatened the party with a hand gun which he shot off a few times and then he proceded to shoot two people (one woman was also grazed across her arm). Federal law also states that all waters navigable by rafters is owned by the public including the adjacent land up to the mean high water mark (in other words a fisherman doesn't need to get his feet wet if he is walking along the banks of the creek fishing; he is still on public property even if there is a private home above the creek). The land owner stepped his bounds on both counts according to Federal Laws.

  7. rebekah:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:52 PM

    THAT IS STUPID HE HAD NO RIGHT TO SHOOT THE GUY. ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS ASK HIM TO LEAVE

  8. janet mccain mccullough/dingyjanet:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:53 PM

    #1,Who does this guy think he is taking the law in his own hands! I doubt some police officials now the laws! Its ashame that this could possibly happen if we did exercised our rights!! i have personally ran into problems with landowners,BUT i didn't know the LAW well enough to defend mysel!! But the BEST THING WAS TO JUST LEAVE AND WE DID!!

  9. Jack:
    Oct 09, 2013 at 02:53 PM

    Since the landowner according to witnesses at the scene had no gun initially but went back to his home to get a gun after the initial argument with the rafters, I think the prosecutor should change the offense to 1st degree murder instead of second degree murder. According to US law, 1st degree murder is a "specific intent to kill, premeditated and deliberate" where 2nd degree murder is when "premeditation is absent" end quote. Since the landowner had to go back to his home to get a gun after the initial argument occurred, his action was "premeditated" with a "specific intent to kill". It is very unfortunate that many landowners do not understand the "Castle Doctrine" or the laws pertaining to the public use of this country's waterways. From what I have read in the newspaper accounts so far, many local officials where this atrocity occurred also did not know the laws to let the land owners know either way. There were continued complaints by local landowners about rafters "trespassing" on their lands and the local authorities should have found out the laws pertaining to such disagreements and told the landowners that they do not own the river and that it is considered public land. Things might have ended differently if this particular land owner was told by local authorities that rafters are allowed on and around this particular river.

  10. David:
    Dec 19, 2013 at 03:29 PM

    I am sorry, but if you are so stupid that when you are pissing on some guy's property and he tells you to leave, you argue with him, he goes and gets a gun, shoots off a couple of warning shots and you STILL don't leave, then you deserve to be shot.

  11. Vanessa:
    Mar 16, 2014 at 06:01 PM

    "By acting responsibly, landowners and recreational users can come to terms regarding access rights. By choosing not to take matters into their own hands and educating themselves on legal precedence, disagreement will become a thing of the past and everyone can "own the stream" together." http://dailyjournalonline.com/news/local/case-law-says-floaters-had-right-to-stop-on-gravel/article_c7fd3980-f655-11e2-baa9-0019bb2963f4.html

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