SARANAC LAKE - A local man pleaded not guilty to felony assault Tuesday afternoon in village court, after he allegedly shot his wife in the hand with a shotgun during a domestic dispute early that morning.
The shooting took place in front of the couple's three young children, between 5 months and 4 years of age, in what police say was the only habitable room of a McClelland Street house. Police said it was squalid inside, despite a relatively tidy exterior, because it was also home to 17 dogs - what police say may have been an illegal kennel or dog-breeding operation. That could lead to more charges in the case, village police Chief Bruce Nason said.
"The condition of the house - the place was covered with dog feces," Nason said. "They were pretty much living in the living room because the other rooms in the house either had dogs or they just couldn't - it was a mess."
Saranac Lake village police officers talk Tuesday morning outside a house where they say a man shot his wife early Tuesday morning.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Oleg Tchernytchenko, 35, of Saranac Lake, was formally charged with first-degree assault, a class B felony, and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
Nason said the incident took place in the living room of the home around 1:50 a.m. He said Tchernytchenko and his wife were arguing when he pointed a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun at her.
"He was standing in front of her when he pointed it at her, she tried to push it away, and that's when it fired, striking her in the hand," Nason said.
The woman suffered what Nason described as a non-life-threatening wound to the hand. She called 911 to report the incident.
Nason said Saranac Lake ambulance personnel responded to what was initially reported as a person with a head injury. When they arrived on scene, they found the woman had been shot in the hand and contacted village police, who were already en route, Nason said.
The woman was initially taken to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake and later transfered to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt., Nason said.
"I didn't see the injury, but the reason she went to Burlington was to see if they could surgically repair her hand and save her fingers," he said. "The possibility existed that at least one or two were badly damaged."
Nason said police were still trying to confirm what the husband and wife were arguing about. He said either Tchernytchenko or his officers mentioned that he had consumed some wine that night, but no sobriety or blood-alcohol tests were performed.
Nason said his officers interviewed the woman at the hospital. She also gave police a handwritten statement before she was transferred to Fletcher Allen. Nason said Tchernytchenko has also given police a voluntary statement. None of the statements were immediately provided by police.
Village police were going door to door, interviewing neighbors, when the Enterprise visited the scene around 9:30 a.m. Three village police vehicles were parked on the street, yellow police tape was strung up around the house, and a large dog was barking in its driveway.
Franklin County Child Protective Services employees were talking outside John Farrington's home across the street, where police brought the three young children after the incident. Farrington spoke with the Enterprise as his daughter, Shannon, watched the kids inside.
"I didn't hear anything," Farrington said. "I talked to the neighbors, and I don't think anybody heard anything. I overheard that she was shot in the hand."
Farrington described his neighbors as "loners" and "a little mysterious.
"He would only come out and have cigarettes on the porch, wave at me and smile," Farrington said of Tchernytchenko. "I never heard much yelling. They'd talk loudly sometimes. I was not aware of any violence or anything like that."
The children were eventually taken into custody by child protective services. Nason said police had previously responded to reports of domestic disputes at the home, though offhand he didn't know how many. None of those prior incidents had resulted in any charges.
The 17 dogs, of various ages, were removed from the home by the village's dog control officer, Lena Bombard of the Tri-Lakes Humane Society.
"We haven't been able to have them evaluated yet because we've had so many," Bombard told the Enterprise. She said the shelter would gladly accept any donations to help care for and feed the animals. "We already had 23 dogs here, and we just took in a lot more. It's going to be ongoing. We have to get them vet care and take care of them."
After the dogs were all removed from the house, police carried out a search warrant. They found a slug from the shotgun lodged in a wall and also secured a .22-caliber rifle from the residence.
Tchernytchenko was held in the village police department lock-up until roughly 1:30 p.m., when he was arraigned on the charges before village Justice Ken McLaughlin. McLaughlin said Tchernytchenko did not have a lawyer present at the time and was given an application for a public defender.
Tchernytchenko pleaded not guilty and was remanded to the Franklin County Jail in Malone in lieu of $50,000 cash bail or $100,000 bond. The judge also said he issued an order of protection for the woman and the three children that runs through December.
State police investigators assisted with the probe, performing forensic work and helping village police conduct interviews, Nason said.
"I cannot praise our officers enough for their quick response, the state police arriving to assist us and the cooperation between the agencies," he said.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.