A Garden City man was arraigned Tuesday on a criminally negligent homicide charge in the accidental shooting death of a Malverne firefighter and friend during a hunting trip upstate, Otsego County prosecutors said.
Robert R. Gerbino, 57, pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance after his arraignment, Otsego County District Attorney John M. Muehl said.
Gerbino, who was in a tree stand, had "said he thought he was shooting at a deer" on Nov. 16, 2013, when he shot Charles Bruce, 52, in the town of Westford, according to Muehl.
Muehl said Bruce, of Franklin Square, was standing 40 yards away in thick brush. He died from a single shot to the chest from a .44-caliber weapon.
Criminally negligent homicide is a Class E felony and carries a maximum 4-year sentence. A person is guilty of that charge, under the law, when they "fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk" that results in the death of another person.
"In my heart, I believe that it's the correct decision by the grand jury," Muehl said Tuesday. "Being a hunter requires that you, in every case, positively identify your target before you shoot . . . and he didn't."
Earlier, Muehl had said: "If you don't know what you're shooting at, it's negligent."
Gerbino's attorney, Richard A. Rothermel, of Oneonta, couldn't be reached. Gerbino could not be reached.
Bruce's family described him as a doting divorced father of a 22-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son. Bruce enjoyed volunteering with Malverne, where he was a 17-year veteran. Born on the island of Jamaica, he loved to wear cowboy boots, smoke cigars and sing country music, his sister said.
Connie Bruce, 53, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., called her brother "the glue that held us together."
She said, "I will never walk into a room and see his smile again or watch him chew on a cigar or sing country music."
Gerbino, who was indicted March 27, is scheduled to return to court May 5. The indictment was unsealed Tuesday.
Charles Bruce's shooting took place shortly before 10:30 a.m. in a wooded area of a privately owned property. Bruce, an electrician, was in a hunting party that included fellow firefighters, Dave Gildea, who is also a volunteer firefighter and Malverne department spokesman, said in November.
There was no evidence that drugs or alcohol were factors, prosecutors said. The trip was not a department-sponsored event, officials said.
Bruce's death came in a hunting season with the lowest number of shooting-related incidents on record -- 19 statewide, down from 24 in the previous season, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.
Neither Bruce nor Gerbino was wearing hunter orange, which is recommended, but not required by state law.
New York is one of eight states that don't require hunters wear orange, according to the International Hunter Education Association. More than 80 percent of the state's hunters wear orange, the DEC said.
"Every picture of him, he always had his orange vest on," Connie Bruce said. "I just don't understand where it was."
She said she didn't know Gerbino, but "from what I understand, he's very torn up over the incident."
She added: "I feel for him. . . . I hate for anyone's life to be turned upside down. At the same time, we've lost a lot, and it was so needless."