Harry Whittington, shot in the face by Dick Cheney in 2006 hunting accident, dies at 95

Attorney Harry M. Whittington on the roof of his office building in Austin, Texas.
Attorney Harry M. Whittington on the roof of his office building in Austin, Texas, in 2010. (Washington Post via Getty Images)

Harry Whittington, the Texas attorney who survived being shot in the face by then-Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident in 2006, has died at 95.

Whittington died early Saturday morning at his home in Austin, Texas, his wife, Mercedes Baker Whittington, told the New York Times.

A longtime Republican supporter, Whittington attracted global attention after he was sprayed with more than 200 pellets from Cheney’s shotgun during a quail hunt on a private ranch in South Texas on Feb. 11, 2006. Cheney was tracking a quail in flight when he inadvertently shot his friend. With wounds to the face, neck and torso, the 78-year-old later suffered a heart attack and a collapsed lung in the hospital, where he spent a week.

Cheney’s gaffe coincided with declining approval ratings for President George W. Bush’s administration as it wrestled with an escalating war in Iraq and leaks about a domestic eavesdropping program carried out by the National Security Agency.

The damage to Cheney’s image was compounded by a delay in commenting on the shooting. Four days passed before he spoke publicly about the accident, citing it as “one of the worst days of my life” in an interview with Fox News.

“I’m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend,” the vice president said in the interview. “You can’t blame anybody else.”

Whittington was looking for a downed quail about 30 yards away when Cheney turned to shoot a bird flying toward him, according to police.

After receiving treatment from Cheney’s Secret Service agents, Whittington was taken to a hospital in Kingsville, Texas, then airlifted to a hospital in Corpus Christi.

Whittington later offered an apology himself for his role as the victim.

“My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week,” he said in a statement when he was released from the hospital. “We send our love and respect to them as they deal with situations that are much more serious than what we’ve had this week.”

Whittington left the hospital with about 30 pellets still in his body, including one near his heart and another in his eye socket, as doctors considered their removal too risky.

The hunting mishap provided fodder for comedians.

“I think Cheney is starting to lose it,” Jay Leno said in his standup routine. “After he shot the guy, he screamed, ‘Anyone else want to call domestic wiretapping illegal?’”

Even President Bush managed to find humor in the matter when he met with the U.S. Military Academy’s 2005 men’s championship rifle team at the White House.

“If you happen to be walking around and you run into the vice president, you might give him a few pointers,” he said.

Whittington was born on March 3, 1927, in Henderson, Texas, about 140 miles from Dallas. His father had a dry-goods store and a cotton gin, both of which he lost during the Great Depression, according to a 2010 interview he gave to the Washington Post.

After graduating with a law degree from the University of Texas in 1950, Whittington practiced law in Austin and invested in commercial real estate in the state’s capital. He also snubbed his family’s Democratic loyalties by supporting Republican candidates, managing John Tower’s successful race for a Senate seat in 1961. Whittington also worked for George H.W. Bush’s unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1964.

His access to Republican leaders landed him a job on the state’s prison board from 1979 until 1985. During that time, he held public hearings on the system’s drug scandals, cronyism, no-bid contracts and the disciplining of prisoners. He also served on the Texas Funeral Service Commission and was chairman of the state’s public finance authority board.

Whittington and his wife had four daughters.

“We all assume certain risks in whatever we do, whatever we pursue,” Whittington said in 2006. “And regardless of how experienced, careful and dedicated we are, accidents do and will happen.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.