An Upper Keys man died July 4 in North Carolina the day after riding an all-terrain vehicle into a metal cable that someone slung across a path between two trees.
But the Swain County (N.C.) Sheriff's Office said it is not investigating despite the possibility of malicious circumstances surrounding the man's death.
Authorities told Shane Hamilton's family and friends that the wire was meant to be some sort of delineator of private property and that Hamilton was knowingly or unknowingly trespassing when he drove his ATV through the path.
But in photos given to The Reporter, the cable appears to be an almost-concealed booby trap, hung over the path about a foot off the ground. Covering just the few feet of width between the two trees, it looks nothing like a makeshift fence or marker roping off property boundaries.
There are no "no trespassing" signs or any indicators people on the land would face a physical boundary.
Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran did not return e-mails and phone calls for this report. Chief Deputy Jason Gardner would not comment beyond saying there will be "no investigation" and that the "case is closed."
He then said he could not answer any more questions about Hamilton before hanging up the phone.
Mark Page, Hamilton's friend and business partner, traveled to Swain County to drive Hamilton's wife Karrissa and his two children back home to Key Largo. He said the local authorities did not seem interested in finding out why the cable was placed across the path.
"The cops I talked to were not very helpful at all," said Page, owner of Page Excavating. Hamilton family members declined to speak to The Reporter about the case. Page fielded questions on their behalf this week.
As of press time, it was not clear who owns the property where Hamilton met his death.
Hamilton, 45, was driving the ATV on a wooded trail near the cabin he and his family rented in the western North Carolina county. His 10-year-old son, Shane Jr., was riding on the back of the ATV.
According to Page, the wire caught the ATV's front tires just minutes into the trip. As the fast-moving vehicle kept moving forward, the wire made its way over the handlebars and struck Hamilton below the ribcage.
His son flew over Hamilton's shoulders and missed the wire. He was not hurt. The photos given to The Reporter show pieces of the ATV hanging from the wire.
Swain County Emergency Medical Services Coordinator David Breedlove said an ambulance was sent to the scene around 5:30 p.m. July 3. A helicopter ambulance flew Hamilton to Mission Health Hospital in Asheville, N.C. It is about 15 to 20 minutes away by helicopter and it's the closest trauma center to Swain County, Breedlove said.
Hamilton died in the hospital July 4. Mission Health spokeswoman Jerri Jameson said she could not comment on the extent of Hamilton's injuries.
The Reporter requested an autopsy report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday. The report had not been received by press time Thursday afternoon.
Assistant Swain County District Attorney Jim Moore said he could not comment on whether his office is investigating the death, but did say the DA's office typically does not conduct separate investigations from the Sheriff's Office.
"We're not able to bring charges ourselves," Moore said. "Our investigators supplement what law enforcement has done first."
Florida has state attorneys instead of district attorneys. State attorneys often conduct investigations separate from the local police departments or sheriff's offices to determine whether charges are warranted in a particular case. They also can request grand juries to investigate cases.
For example, Monroe County State Attorney Catherine Vogel has asked a Keys grand jury to look into the death of Michigan resident Charles Eimers, who died late last year after being taken into Key West police custody on a traffic charge.
Prosecutors will present information about circumstances related to Eimers' death later this month.
A fundraising benefit is planned for the Hamilton family on Sunday at the Caribbean Club, mile marker 104 bayside, from noon until 5 p.m. Donations can be made payable to Karrissa Hamilton. Go to the Shane Hamilton Memorial Facebook page for more information.
Shane Hamilton is survived by his son Shane Jr., wife Karrissa and his 16-year-old daughter Savanna.