A McMinn County man was fatally injured Saturday night when a shotgun being fired by an acquaintance exploded and struck the victim in the neck, according to a news release.
"It was the first incident of the new year," McMinn Sheriff Joe Guy said. "It was a bad situation to begin 2012 with."
Jeffery Watson, 48, was with some friends outside his residence on County Road 20 in Calhoun celebrating the New Year around midnight, the sheriff said. According to the witnesses present, Benjamin David Ware, 31, was firing a 12-gauge shotgun into the woods when it exploded.
"It appears that Mr. Watson was standing a few feet to the rear and behind Mr. Ware when the shotgun exploded, and a piece of the barrel struck Mr. Watson in the neck," Guy said.
Watson died at Athens Regional Medical Center, he said.
According to Detective Lt. Eric Allman's investigation, the group was gathered around a bonfire.
"Alcohol was present, but we've not determined if it was a factor in the accident," Lt. Allman said in the release. Authorities don't know why the weapon exploded.
Another shotgun was taken from the scene, as well as a small amount of what appeared to be marijuana, the release stated.
No charges have been filed but the investigation is continuing.