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Brush Prairie woman hit by stray bullet feels ‘blessed’

Her home is near Clark Rifles shooting ranges

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: February 3, 2015, 4:00pm
4 Photos
Linda Sperling's son Andy Sperling walks in his family's yard Tuesday among orange flags that mark the locations where a metal detector has found objects in the ground, some of them bullets.
Linda Sperling's son Andy Sperling walks in his family's yard Tuesday among orange flags that mark the locations where a metal detector has found objects in the ground, some of them bullets. Photo Gallery

Linda Sperling considers herself blessed. Had she turned her head or stepped an inch to the side on the afternoon of Jan. 26, she may be dead.

The 65-year-old Brush Prairie woman was outside on her 5-acre property collecting branches from a recent windstorm when she heard what sounded like an explosion.

“I didn’t even realize I’d been shot,” she said. She put her hand to her head and pulled it back to find blood on her gardening glove.

After she was rushed to an area hospital, doctors told her that a bullet entered and exited her scalp. She was treated and released, but continues to suffer from a concussion, memory and vision problems, and a constant headache. But she keeps in mind that she’s lucky.

“What if it was a quarter-inch deeper?” she said. “It’s just not my time.”

The Sperlings’ property, east of Hockinson, abuts Clark Rifles, a gun club that has two rifle ranges and a handgun range, according to its website. One of those 300-yard rifle ranges points toward the Sperlings’ property.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office major crimes unit is investigating the incident, but a spokesman for the agency, Sgt. Fred Neiman, said that their involvement is only to determine if a crime occurred.

“It’s really not looking like it’s going to be considered any sort of criminal activity,” Neiman said. “It looks like an unintended, unfortunate incident where she was injured.”

Detectives haven’t determined yet where the projectile Linda Sperling was struck with came from.

Dave Christie, vice president of Clark Rifles, said that he’s aware of the situation but couldn’t comment on the incident.

“There’s no proof that it was from our range. … We know about no rounds that left the range,” he said.

But because of Linda Sperling’s gunshot wound and the positioning of the range and their property, Sperling and her husband say it’s pretty obvious that the bullet came from the range.

“It’s been a fear always, but a fear I’d hoped would never happen,” Linda Sperling said.

When the Sperlings first finished building their house in 1980, they said that the shooting range was somewhat dormant, with shots heard every month or so.

But around 1988, the Sperlings said the shots became more frequent. The rifle club already had a berm in place behind its targets and added a wooden backstop atop that.

Even so, the Sperlings said they have often found bullets in their yard.

At a Clark County Commissioners meeting in August 1988, Linda’s husband, Michael Sperling, spoke at a public hearing addressing the gun club’s license. At the time, he said he wasn’t opposed to the range but added that stray bullets went over his house, according to The Columbian’s archives. Now that his wife has been shot in the head, his attitude has changed a bit.

A month after that August 1988 meeting, commissioners approved the gun club’s shooting range license.

“If that hadn’t have happened, she wouldn’t have been shot,” Michael Sperling said.

Moving, Linda Sperling said, is not an option.

“This is home,” she said. “We have our roots pretty deep here.”

So, the family is taking the steps they can to keep their home of 35 years safe.

Michael Sperling has visited with an attorney but learned that a temporary injunction would cost $10,000 in attorneys fees and other costs, which he and his family can’t afford.

He plans to do some homework to see if there are any organizations willing to back his efforts.

“If we can drum up some money and fight them legally, we will,” he said.

They’re also reaching out to government officials about their safety concerns in hopes that someone will step up and help.

Michael Sperling said he’s left a message with the current county council’s office and has emailed state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and state Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida, to find some sort of solution.

“I want this to be in the public’s eye,” Michael Sperling said.

The family argues that their issue with the range is not the noise from the gunshots, but rather that the range has grown and now uses every inch of its property, which is surrounded by private residences.

“Our right to safety outweighs their privilege,” Andy Sperling, the couple’s son, said. “We’ve always tried to be good neighbors, but at some point, you reach a limit.”

He’s hired a metal detector company to help him find more than 1 1/2 pounds of bullets in his yard, an effort to find the bullet that struck Linda Sperling and to show how many bullets are on their property.

“I could go to any yard in Clark County and not find a bullet,” Andy Sperling said. “It’s kind of a danger zone … Nobody deserves to be shot on their property.”

The family said that they realize they’re embarking on an uphill battle, but one they say is worth it in the name of safety.

In the meantime, Linda Sperling, who used to be full of energy and in the yard daily, has yet to spend more than a few moments outside.

“I haven’t left the couch. I’m not a couch person,” she said.

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