- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

CARTHAGE, N.C. (AP) Deputy Sheriff Randall Butler became suspicious when he spotted the pickup truck with someone crouching in the back, exposed to the blustery, 40-degree cold.
Deputy Butler pulled the truck over and noticed a duffel bag with a disassembled rifle inside. When one of the three men in the truck came at him, Deputy Butler tried pepper spray. Then he opened fire, killing one man and wounding another.
According to the account given by Moore County sheriff's officials, what Deputy Butler didn't know was that two of the suspicious men were Army Special Forces soldiers training for their coveted green berets.
The soldiers apparently thought Deputy Butler was an actor in their role-playing exercise.
The deadly mix-up near Fort Bragg on Saturday has shaken Army officials, who plan to re-examine how they carry out the training exercise that they have been conducting for decades.
Army officials said the shooting was the tragic result of a breakdown in communications.
They said the Sheriff's Department had not been told about Saturday's exercise because the Army did not think the department would be involved.
The Army "will look at where the miscommunication happened and make sure we take some of the steps to ensure it doesn't happen again," said Maj. Gary Kolb, a spokesman at Fort Bragg.
No charges are expected against Deputy Butler, who "did exactly what he was supposed to do. He thought he was in fear of his life from the time the incident started," said Chief Deputy Sheriff Lane Carter.
The Fort Bragg soldiers, whose names had not been released, were taking part in "Robin Sage," the final leg of training for soldiers trying to become Green Berets.
The two soldiers were in a truck driven by a civilian participant when Deputy Butler pulled them over on a rural road outside Robbins, about 30 miles from Fort Bragg. Chief Deputy Carter said Deputy Butler had seen the truck twice during a 30-minute period and thought the occupants were acting oddly.
"One was in the back of the truck and two were in the front of the truck. It was 40 degrees and the wind was blowing and the one in the back was crouched down and it just looked strange," he said.
After stopping the truck and seeing the duffel bag with a weapon, he ordered the two persons in the cab to get out, and threw the bag on the ground, Chief Deputy Carter said.
The soldiers then apparently tried to disarm Deputy Butler.
One soldier tried to assault the deputy, Chief Deputy Carter said. Deputy Butler sprayed him with pepper spray. The second soldier came out of the back of the truck and tried to grab the weapon in the bag, and Deputy Butler shot and wounded him, Chief Deputy Carter said. The first soldier came at him again and was fatally shot.
The wounded soldier was in serious condition yesterday. The Tampa Tribune said relatives identified him as Sgt. Stephen Phelps, formerly of Clearwater, Fla.
Robin Sage is the 19-day final exam of the Special Forces Qualification Course. Conducted since the 1950s in North Carolina, it tests skills in survival, tactics and dealing with people, as well as judgment, decision-making and ethics.


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