(AP) - A man jailed in the death of another squirrel hunter in northern Wisconsin was shot once in each hand before the two wrestled in the woods and he stabbed the victim with a knife he carried to cut the tails off his quarry, the suspect's fiancee told The Associated Press Tuesday.
Dacia James said she was the first person that James Nichols of Peshtigo talked to after the incident that killed Cha Vang, 30, of Green Bay, late Friday afternoon in a public hunting area just south of Peshtigo.
James, 20, said Nichols, 28, indicated to her that he acted in self-defense after being shot in the hands.
"There was a verbal confrontation first," James said in a telephone interview from her home in Marinette. "Jim told me that he had stabbed the guy. That is all I know."
Marinette County Sheriff's Department Jim Kanikula has released few details of the investigation into Vang's death, other than it occurred after an "accidental meeting" between Vang and another hunter. The sheriff did not immediately return a telephone message Tuesday seeking comment on what James said.
Nichols didn't immediately report the incident to police because he panicked and was frightened because he was on probation for burglary, James said. But Nichols, after seeking medical care with James at his side, helped investigators try to locate Vang's body within hours after the incident, James said.
Vang's body was found Saturday partially concealed in the Peshtigo Harbor Wildlife Area. His wife has said he spoke no English and could not have provoked an attack.
Nichols has not been charged in the slaying but was jailed early Saturday on a probation violation as a felon in possession of a firearm related to the punishment for some 1997 convictions for burglary.
Kanikula has said Vang was murdered but has not revealed the cause of the death on the advice of the state attorney general's office, which is involved in the investigation.
The incident involving Vang, who is Hmong, has threatened to re-expose racial tensions in the northwoods.
His death came a little more than two years after a Hmong hunter, Chai Soua Vang, 38, of St. Paul, Minn., killed six white hunters and injured two in northwestern Wisconsin. He claimed one of them fired in his direction after they shouted racial epithets. He is serving multiple life terms.
The two men are not related. Vang is a common name among the Hmong, who have immigrated from Southeast Asia to the Midwest in large numbers since the end of the Vietnam War.
Even before the 2004 shootings, Hmong hunters claimed they had been harassed, and whites complained that the Hmong do not get permission to hunt on private property.
Kanikula has said he did not know whether Vang's death was a hate crime.
According to James, Nichols was squirrel hunting about 4:30 p.m. Friday, focusing on what the squirrels were doing when he heard someone come up to him.
"He turns around and tells the guy that he needs to go to a different spot, not necessarily that he needs to leave the area, but that he was molesting his hunt and scaring the squirrels away," the fiancee said. "Jim said the guy started talking in gibberish that he couldn't understand and then fired at him."
James said Nichols, who was hunting with a 12-gauge shotgun, got hit in the right hand.
"He was shocked," James said. "He kind of just stopped and looked at his hand, he said. And he kind of laughed because he couldn't believe it."
Then a second shot hit Nichols' little finger on his left hand, James said.
James said she doesn't know whether Nichols fired his gun at Vang but she was told there was a fight and Vang was stabbed with the knife that Nichols uses to remove the tails from squirrels.
"Jim didn't intend to do this. He wasn't going out hunting for people. He was hunting for squirrels. He was defending himself," she said. "Jim is not racist at all. He has friends from every ethnic background he has ever come in contact with."
No one answered the phone at Vang's home in Green Bay late Tuesday afternoon.
Dick Campbell, a volunteer for the Hmong community in Green Bay who has befriended the Vang family, said he was not surprised by the fiancee's version of what happened.
"I have been waiting for somebody to jump up and defend this guy by saying it was self-defense. That is pretty much par for the course."
Yia Thao, president of the United Hmong Community Center in Green Bay, declined comment on the fiancee's version.
Vang and his family are refugees from Thailand who came to the United States two years ago, Thao said.
Nichols' father, Daniel Nichols of rural Florence, said he had been unable to talk to his son since he was jailed. He described his son as a "likable kid" who loved hunting and fishing and worked as a logger and in sawmills for a time.
"They talk about him like he was trash on the news," he said. "Everybody liked him. He would always say 'Hi' to you. He always respected his parents and elders."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)