Teen Justin Burns's Hunting Accident Death: Shooter Guy Pohto Gets 5 Years

Last year, we told you about the death of Justin Burns, a fourteen-year-old from Palisade who was accidentally killed while hunting on the Grand Mesa, located on Colorado's Western Slope.

The shooter, Minnesota's Guy Pohto, was charged in the incident, and Burns's family has filed a lawsuit against him that's still pending.

Now, Pohto has been ordered to serve five years in prison for the incident — an unusually heavy sentence, but one seen by hunting advocates as enforcing the need for safe practices while taking part in the activity.

At around 8:30 a.m. Sunday, September 13, as we've reported, the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center, which handles emergency dispatch in the area, received a call about a possible hunter shot near the Big Creek campground, located near Big Creek Reservoir; the closest communities are Paonia and Delta.

Mesa County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to the scene, as did the Collbran marshall and personnel from the Plateau Valley Fire Department.

There, they found a teenager subsequently identified as Burns. The Mesa County coroner's office concluded that he died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

The MCSO revealed that Burns had been bow-hunting with his father when he was shot.

The office noted that "it is currently archery and muzzleloader season for various big game, and bear rifle season in many areas across the state."

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel subsequently offered more detail.

According to the paper, Justin and his father, Cory Burns, were hiking through some brush when the latter heard a shot.

He turned to Justin, who said, "I've been shot," and fell into his father's arms.

Cory yelled for help and tried to stop the bleeding for what he estimates as ten minutes, the Sentinel's account continues.

Only then did a man show up — but after announcing that he didn't have a cell phone, he vanished.

It didn't take long for Pohto to be identified as the suspected shooter.

He later confessed to taking what's known as a "sound shot" — meaning that he heard a noise in the brush, then fired in its direction without seeing his target.

In January, Pohto pleaded guilty to manslaughter and hunting in a careless manner — and yesterday, the judge in the case handed him the five-year sentence, to be followed by four years of probation.

Look below to see Pohto's booking photo.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts