Police: St. Johns County man killed by accidental ‘long distance' shot

By: Jenna Bourne, Action News Jax

Updated:

Investigators say a St. Johns County man was killed by a "long distance shot."

It happened at a trailer down a dirt road off State Road 16 in an area with a lot of trees and open land around it.

A family member went to check the property and discovered 51-year-old Chester Ratliff’s body on July 30, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators believe it was an “accidental” shooting.

SJSO called the location an “abandoned” tractor trailer, but neighbors told Action News Jax that’s where Ratliff lived. SJSO has arrested Ratliff 17 times since 1992.

Neighbors said he was a father and kept to himself a lot. SJSO said a person of interest is cooperating in the investigation.

Several neighbors told Action News Jax it’s not uncommon for people in this area to shoot target practice in their backyards.

Multiple neighbors reported seeing two neighbors’ properties on the next street over roped off with crime scene tape earlier in the week.

“There was some crime scene tape at two -- marking off two properties farther down the road. And I did actually stop to ask what was going on, just out of concern," said a neighbor, who did not want to be identified out of fear of retaliation. "The officer on duty mentioned they were executing a search warrant."

Neighbors said this apparent stray gunfire is concerning to them because there are families with children and livestock in the neighborhood.

When Action News Jax asked SJSO Media Relations Officer Kevin Kelshaw why it took almost a week to notify the public of Ratliff’s death, he responded, “Detectives and Crime Scene Technicians had to determine what occurred and evidence gathered at the scene proved it to be a distant shot. 

"They are still working the case and additional information will be released in the future."

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