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Meramec River Shooting Highlights Property Rights Debate

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Suspected shooter, 59-year-old James Crocker

Suspected shooter, 59-year-old James Crocker

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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - The shooting death of a man along the Meramec River Saturday has brought murky issues of land ownership and river rights to the forefront.

Paul Dart Jr., 48, was taking part in a float trip near Steelville, Missouri Saturday afternoon when he and several others got into a dispute with a nearby homeowner about whether they were standing on private or public property.

The landowner then reportedly pulled out a gun and fired several shots, striking Dart in the head. Police say the suspected shooter, James Crocker, 59, then went to a neighbor’s home and asked her to call police because he had just shot someone.

Real estate attorney Harry Styron says he receives calls weekly from property owners along rivers such as the Meramec.

“It’s like living on a street where there’s a street festival, like in Soulard and south St. Louis where you have a party going on every weekend,” he says. “The adjoining landowners have to put up with a lot of things you wouldn’t want to happen in your home. It becomes very obnoxious. I think people would say the behavior of a segment of the floaters has gotten worse.”

Investigators have not yet determined whether or not Crocker did in fact own the land that Dart was urinating on when the argument began. Legal protections allow those floating along the river to stop on some gravel areas but not on private property.

Styron calls it a big issue with few legislative solutions that pits outfitters and the canoeing public against property rights organizations.

“It’s a big burden on law enforcement too because they’re getting calls to deal with situations that are not on roads so they have a hard time getting there with their equipment, often their cell phone service is down in the valley. It’s very difficult,” he explained.

Crocker is jailed on a second-degree murder charge.

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