“There’s certainly going to be lot of tears and heartache,” Leslie Hanlon said as she began to cry, “We just really miss him.”
Today, marks the one-year anniversary of the fatal hunting accident that took the life her husband, John Hanlon, of Inverness.
On a hunting trip with his eldest son in East Dubuque, the 44-year-old father of four, was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest November 19, 2011.
“That date, it’s hard to think about,” Hanlon said as she held back tears, “It’s just so hard to get through because I can’t take their pain away.”
The mother of a girl and three boys ranging in age from 9 to 16 years, Hanlon said her family is doing their best to move forward. “That’s what John would want us to do,” Hanlon said, “But at the same time we’re working on better sentencing laws.”
that killed John Hanlon and injured Hanlon’s son Nathan, then 15, about an hour before it was legal to hunt. Charged with involuntary manslaughter, then 53, Jackson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years probation and 180 days of work release Aug. 2, according to Jo Daviess County court records.
“Given the severity of it, a light sentence like that, I don’t know,” Hanlon said, “All I can say is it sends the wrong message.”
Hanlon believes stricter sentencing laws would make hunters take safety laws more seriously. "It's reckless," Hanlon said, "The laws are vague and there is too much flexibility within that range of sentencing."
Jackson’s work release sentence began Aug. 13 and expired early. The East Dubuque man served less than half his sentence; Now 54, Jackson was released from the program after 56 days.
“We all were very shocked and angry and just frustrated,” Hanlon said, “I mean, he took one life and it could have been two.”
The bullet that killed John passed through the 44-year-old’s body and hit Nathan. “It’s horrible,” Hanlon said, “But by the grace of God Nathan’s life was spared.”
Nathan was transported to a nearby hospital, treated for an abrasion to his abdomen and later released. Now 16, Hanlon said her son lives with two very permanent scars from that morning in East Dubuque last November.
“He has a physical scar to remind him that he was there with John,” Hanlon said, “He watched his father die and that’s going to be a horrible thing he carries with him for the rest of his life.”
Immediately after the fatal shot was fired, Nathan said Jackson came over to him and his father, and said he mistook the 44-year-old man for a deer because he was not wearing a blaze-orange vest.
“He just said ‘where’s the orange blaze?’” Hanlon said, “There was no apology in the interaction.” As required by law, both father and son had blaze-orange vests on.
“Nathan turned the light on to show John was wearing orange,” Hanlon said, “He just couldn’t see it because it was pitch black.”
Jackson discharged his 12-gauge shotgun around 5:30 a.m. November 19, 2011. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Jackson fired about an hour before it was legal to possess a loaded shotgun or hunt deer.
“It was so preventable,” Hanlon said, “It was pitch black so to fire at a sound in the dark was completely irresponsible.”
Hunting with his son, Jackson was aware there was another father-son duo preparing to hunt on the property that morning in November.
Each with permission to hunt on the privately owned land, they met and spoke briefly. The two fathers talked about where they were headed so they knew who was where and the areas to expect gunfire when the sun came up.
About 15 minutes after that discussion and 60 minutes before legal deer hunting hours began, Jackson fired the fatal shot.
Fined $867 and free from work release, Jackson remains on probation for two years, Jo Daviess County court records indicate.
The Hanlon family filed a civil suit against the East Dubuque man in April; the next hearing scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 20.
“This was not a situation where a gun fell and discharged or where a person tripped and accidentally fired,” Hanlon said, “He pulled the trigger and shot someone, two people actually, my husband and my son.”
Considering what he’s been through, Hanlon said Nathan, a sophomore at Fremd High School, is doing really well. “He’s a strong boy,” Hanlon said, “But I worry about all of my children all the time.”
Hanlon said it’s been a long, difficult year for her whole family. “Just not having my partner in raising my kids and seeing the hurt they’re going through,” Hanlon said, “That’s what’s been so painful, seeing all of them miss him so much.”
After a year full of sadness, anger and frustration, Hanlon said, “I don’t think that will go away, so my hope is that we can use that to get the word out to prevent something like this from happening again.”
Now in the midst of deer hunting season, Hanlon said the best way to prevent this from happening again is stiffer sentencing laws. With harsher punishments in place, Hanlon said people will more likely use precautions and follow hunting rules and regulations.
As much as she and her four children would like to change things for their own family, Hanlon said, “We can’t go back, all we can hope for at this point is something positive to come out of it.” Hanlon added, “It’s what John would want and it’s what he would do, he was a tremendous mentor to us all.”