SARANAC LAKE - An old text message from an old boyfriend apparently sparked the dispute between Oleg Tchernytchenko and his wife that led to him allegedly shooting her in the hand with a shotgun on Tuesday, according to a statement he gave to police.
Tchernytchenko, 35, was charged Tuesday with first-degree assault, a class B felony, and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, following the early morning incident in the couple's McClelland Street home. He has pleaded not guilty.
In a voluntary statement given to village police Patrolman Casey Reardon, Tchernytchenko said he and his wife were having what he called "a little argument, not too loud" in the living room of the house around 1:30 a.m. that morning.
"I was upset over an old cell phone SMS message that was from an old boyfriend to my wife," his statement reads. "The message was sent 8 years ago between them and it said I love you."
Tchernytchenko said he took a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun from a cabinet in the living room and started going to the stairs. He said he then walked toward his wife, who was sitting on the couch.
"She said something to me and I pointed the shotgun at her and said something back to her," his statement reads. "I pointed the shotgun at her and she pushed it away from across her body with her right hand. The shotgun went off and the bullet went through the stairway and into the wall. I threw the gun down picked it up, threw it down. It was panic."
Tchernytchenko said he noticed his wife's fingers were hurt, and he told her to move from the living room where the couple's three children, whom police say were between 5 months and 4 years of age, were sleeping. The children were not hurt, and two of the three slept through the incident, Tchernytchenko's statement reads.
"I was saying I'm sorry to (his wife) when the police got there," he told Reardon. "I was speaking in Russian, telling her its OK. It's bull**** what I did. I feel upset in my chest about (his wife). (She) is a good mother, good wife, we have good babies. I love my family so much. It's my life."
Tchernytchenko's wife also provided police with a much shorter, handwritten statement. Village police Chief Bruce Nason said Tuesday that the statement was taken at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake before the woman was transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt. for surgery on her hand.
"My husband got a phone call about my past," her statement reads. "We started arguing. Oleg grabbed me by the face. Oleg then grabbed our shotgun and said he was going to clean it. I was sitting on the couch. Oleg was standing about 5 feet away. The gun went off and hit my hand. It was an accident."
In a deposition supporting the felony charge, Reardon wrote that the slug from the shotgun caused "separation of the victim's index finger on her right hand and severe injury to her right hand."
State police also took a statement that morning from Rachel Kriwox, an emergency room nurse at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake who treated the victim around 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. In addition to the hand injury, the nurse told police that she saw "old bruising" on the woman's left cheek, and around her neck and her chest area.
"When questioned regarding the bruising and the situation, the patient was vague, gave us a story about it was dark, something about turning a light switch and the gun just went off," Kriwox's statement reads. "I questioned her more closely about how it was a defensive wound and how important it was for her to tell the truth about the situation. (She) began crying and said, 'I am sticking to my story and I am getting out. I have been talking to my pastor. I want to do it my own way and I don't want the police involved.'"
Kriwox said the woman talked to her husband three times via cell phone while she was at the hospital, sometimes speaking in Russian.
Later the nurse said she told the woman that authorities were suspicious that the shooting was not an accident, "and this time she did not deny it.
"(The woman) kept saying, 'Please don't do this to me. I can't do this. I don't want to do it this way,'" Kriwox's statement reads. "When (the woman) looked at me there was so much fear in her eyes."
Nason said Tuesday that 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.
Following his arraignment Tuesday, Tchernytchenko was remanded to the Franklin County Jail in lieu of $50,000 cash bail or $100,000 bond. He was still behind bars Wednesday night.
The couple's children were taken into custody by Franklin County Child Protective Services. Police said the home was filthy inside and may have been the site of an illegal kennel or dog-breeding operation, which Nason said could lead to charges against both Tchernytchenko and his wife. At least 17 dogs were seized from the home Tuesday.