Prosecutors drop charges in Classic shooting

POINTE A LA HACHE, La. — Citing a lack of evidence, prosecutors have rejected charges against a man accused of firing a shotgun over a professional bass angler's boat during last year's CITGO Bassmaster Classic.

A tournament spokesman said tournament officials accept the decision, but added that the incident will weigh heavily in decisions on whether to come back to Louisiana.

Authorities booked Dale Silbernagel, 45, a commercial fisherman, hunting guide and trapper, with two counts of aggravated assault and illegal discharge of a firearm on Aug. 14.

That occurred after tournament runner-up Gary Klein said Silbernagel had tracked his high-speed bass boat with a shotgun before firing into the air.

Authorities said they decided to withhold charges because of limited physical evidence and the fact that the lone witness — Klein — lives in Texas.

"We're not going to proceed with it. The bottom line is I don't think we have a sufficient case to proceed with," Plaquemines Parish District Attorney Darryl Bubrig Sr. said Monday. "I'm not sure we could prove it."

The source of the dispute, investigators said, was a long-standing dispute between property owners and the operators of boats who speed past, causing waves that damage shorelines and houses, upset quiet fishing holes and rock other boats.

Silbernagel's neighbors rallied to his defense, offered to help with his legal costs and sent letters and messages of support for him to authorities.

George McNeilly, a spokesman for Montgomery, Ala.-based BASS Inc. and ESPN Outdoors, which conducts and televises the fishing tournament, said the organization would not quarrel with the prosecutor's decision.

"However, let's not lose sight that this is about someone firing a loaded weapon in the direction of another person. No more, no less," McNeilly said.

"To suggest that there might be mitigating circumstances that in some way justifies this behavior is very troubling."

McNeilly would not speculate on whether the incident would keep the tournament from returning to New Orleans, but said, "This isolated and unfortunate incident gives us great pause."