AITKIN, Minn. — A 38-year-old McGregor father faces multiple criminal charges after his 2 1/2-year-old son suffered serious injuries from being shot in the eye with a BB gun at his McGregor residence.

According to the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy responded Feb. 10 to the Riverwood Healthcare Center’s emergency room on another matter when a seriously injured child and his mother arrived in the emergency room. The child had been in the care of Dale Vernon Preston, his father, when he suffered a BB gunshot to his eye.

Preston was arraigned Friday, Feb. 14, in Aitkin County District Court in Aitkin before Judge David Hermerding on the following charges:

  • Two counts of felony third-degree assault to cause bodily harm and harming a child under age 4,

  • Felony child endangerment,

  • Felony child endangerment to cause substantial harm,

  • Felony storing methamphetamine paraphernalia in the presence of a child,

  • Gross misdemeanor fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance,

  • Misdemeanor domestic assault to cause bodily harm, and

  • Petty misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to the criminal complaint filed against the father, the deputy observed the child crying and in obvious pain in the emergency room. The child’s right eye was extremely swollen and he could not see. He was airlifted to University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital for care.

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The mother told the deputy the child and his father were outside in the yard about 6 p.m. and neighbor kids were outside playing with a BB gun. It was during this time when the child was struck in the eye by a ricochet BB. An investigation ensued into the manner of the child’s injury and the sheriff’s office executed a search warrant Thursday at Preston’s McGregor residence.

Preston initially told a deputy there were three boys about 10 to 11 years old, shooting cans with a BB gun near the neighbor’s fence line. Preston stated he had his back turned to his son, who was standing near a tree, when he heard him crying. Preston turned around and saw the boy bleeding from the eye. The father brought the child into the house and called the mother to come home from work. He stated the boy’s crying came and went, and once the mother got home, the decision was made to take him to the emergency room.

Preston stated he did not go to the emergency room because he had dogs to care for. He stated he got to the University of Minnesota at 5 a.m. the next morning, but the deputy stated he actually didn’t get there until 11 a.m. Preston then admitted he made stops along the way. It was learned after the doctor examined the boy that the BB was lodged under his eyebrow. It was to be surgically removed once the swelling went down.

During the investigation, Preston, who initially denied giving the neighbor children a pellet gun, later admitted he gave them one with the understanding they ask their parents for permission, the complaint stated. Preston told investigators the neighborhood boys were walking by the alley with a BB gun when the pellet ricocheted.

He also denied owning the BB gun and shooting it inside the residence, but the BB gun was located between a mattress and spring box in Preston’s bedroom. He denied knowing the BB gun was there, stating he thought the gun burned up in a shed fire.

While executing the Feb. 13 search warrant, authorities smelled rotting garbage and observed multiple bags of garbage inside. There were a lot of dirty dishes piled up on the counter and in the sink, along with old food sitting in pans, the complaint stated. There were multiple dogs and cats roaming around the residence and feces scattered around. There also were fruit flies and other insects in the residence.

If convicted, Preston could face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The judge ordered a $25,000 bond with conditions, or $75,000 with no conditions. Conditions state Preston cannot leave the state without court approval; he cannot enter any bars or liquor establishments or possess any alcohol or drugs; he must take his prescribed medications; and he must make all future court hearings.

His next court hearing is Feb. 25.