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Trapped driver shot after attacking Montana couple who stopped to help, official says


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BILLINGS, Montana (Idaho Statesman) — A pair of hikers, a husband and wife, stopped to help free a driver trapped in a snowbank in the Montana wilderness, but their good deed was met with threats, a struggle, and finished with gunfire — and the county attorney isn’t prosecuting.

The shooting of Chad Rockman, 43, of Billings, was first reported April 8 by the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office. He was killed near the Rock Creek Resort, in the town of Red Lodge. But new details shared by Carbon County attorney Alex Nixon paint a clearer picture of the incident and explain why he decided the shooting was justified.

Rockman was on a hiking trip with a friend. He had confided in her that he was struggling with anxiety and depression, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, partly due to a new psychiatric medication he had begun taking, according to the letter, Q2 News reported.

The friend, identified in Nixon’s letter as CW, suggested some time out in nature would do Rockman good.

At some point the pair’s SUV gets stuck in the snow while driving to a trail, according to the station. A married couple and their German shepherd come over to help.

The dog was not leashed, but according to Rockman’s friend, it was acting friendly and non-threatening. Still, the animal somehow set him off, becoming “a catalyst for Rockman’s escalating behavior,” Nixon wrote, the Billings Gazette reported.

Rockman grabbed a large stick and repeatedly threatened to kill the couple’s dog. The couple, referred to as JH and TH, leashed the dog and walked back to their car, parked off the side of the road.

But Rockman followed. Swinging the stick, he broke the rear window of the couple’s car, then turned on JH, hitting him several times before wrestling him to the ground, the Gazette reported.

TH sprayed Rockman with bear mace, but it didn’t stop him.

JH pulled a pistol, told Rockman to stop, fired a shot at his leg and missed. Authorities say Rockman kept coming, and JH fired several shots higher, hitting him in the chest.

He died at the scene, according to the county sheriff’s office.

Nixon wrote that the couple acted in self-defense, so he would not bring criminal charges against them, Q2 reported. They tried to avoid confrontation, and the husband hesitated to use deadly force even though a deadly weapon had been used against him.