Disabled Vet shot guarding Turtle Nest

| July 19, 2015

Tampa

TAMPA — Disabled combat veteran Stan Pannaman had every reason to think that surviving a bomb blast during the Vietnam War might be his closest brush with death.

But five decades later the 72-year-old ex-Marine got another scare on a Lauderdale-by-the-Sea beach when he was shot and wounded with his own gun while volunteering to protect sea turtle nests, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

“It was bizarre, for lack of another word,” Pannaman said Sunday from his home in Tamarac.

“After he shot me, the guy looked like he was in shock. He looked very, very surprised. He actually headed toward me and said, ‘How are you? Are you OK?’

“Sir, you shot me. How could I be OK?” Pannaman replied.

The surreal scene played out about 11 p.m. Friday when Pannaman and a friend, South Florida Audubon Society president Doug Young, set off to monitor turtle nest sites near 3900 El Mar Drive.

At the entrance to the beach, the pair were confronted by a man who began cursing them, saying, “I hate sea turtle people. You’re all f—ing crazy,” said Pannaman.

Trying to ignore the man — later identified by sheriff’s deputies as Michael Q. McAuliffe, 38 — Pannaman and Young walked to another part of the beach. But McAuliffe approached, Pannaman said, and began screaming as he yanked up stakes and tore down yellow tape from around a nest site.

Pannaman said he saw McAuliffe take a swing at Young, 64. “Then he started coming at me,” said Pannaman, a retired salesman from Manhattan who is classified as fully disabled and walks with a cane. “That’s when I pulled a handgun from the pocket of my shorts.”

Pannaman said he did not point the gun — a .32 caliber Kel-Tec pistol — directly at his assailant, but turned so the man could see it. “He stopped,” said Pannaman. “I thought I had diffused the situation.”

But seconds after Pannaman put the gun back in his pocket, McAuliffe “lunged at me, grabbed me and threw me down onto the sand,” he said.

As they wrestled, McAuliffe hit him in the face and gouged his head, Pannaman said. “I saw stars for a few minutes,” he said.

When McAuliffe got hold of the pistol, he stood up, Pannaman said, and declared, “I’m going to shoot you with your flare gun.”

“Sir,” Pannaman said, “it’s not a flare gun. It’s a real gun.”

Thinking McAuliffe was about to pull the trigger, Pannaman said he “spun to get out of the way,” and a bullet hit him in the left hip.

At Broward Health Medical Center, Pannaman said, doctors told him the bullet was lodged in his left buttock and would be removed four weeks from now, when the inflammation subsided.

McAuliffe was jailed without bond on two charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and battery on a person 65 or older.

McAuliffe has had several run-ins with the law, records show. He last year pleaded no contest to battery on a person older than 65, a third-degree felony, and to indecent exposure, a misdemeanor. And in 2008, he was twice arrested on charges of criminal mischief. In each case, he pleaded no contest.

Richard Whitecloud, founder of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, which works with Young’s group to help distressed hatchlings, said he gets reports nightly about turtle volunteers getting harassed.

Carrying a gun is not part of his group’s protocol, he said.

Pannaman said his experience would not discourage him from protecting sea turtles, or from carrying a licensed handgun at all times.

And he is grateful that he was not carrying the sidearm he normally packs: a Taurus .357 Magnum. “One of those bullets in the same place could have traveled through my butt into my groin,” he said.

“But really, monitoring sea turtle nests should not be a life-threatening experience.”

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