MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — McGregor resident Dale Vernon Preston faces multiple assault, child endangerment and drug charges in connection to an incident where his toddler son was shot in the eye by a pellet gun.

The criminal complaint says the 2-year-old victim was brought to Riverwood Healthcare Center by his mother Monday evening. An Aitkin County Sheriff’s deputy was at the hospital, and observed that the crying boy had extreme swelling in his right eye that prevented him from seeing. The boy and his mother were later airlifted to M Health University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.

The boy’s mother told the deputy that her son was in the care of his father, 38-year-old Preston, at the time of the injury. She said Preston told her that neighbor kids were playing outside their home with a pellet gun, and one of the pellets ricocheted and struck the boy in the eye.

The deputy went to Preston’s home on Tuesday evening, but no one answered the door, despite the fact that a vehicle was in the driveway. The deputy spoke to a neighbor directly across from Preston’s home on Wednesday, who said her children are not allowed to interact with the family after Preston gave them a pellet gun, which she said was later destroyed.

Dale Preston (credit: Aitkin Co. Sheriff’s Office)

The deputy, parked outside Preston’s home, made phone contact with him later that day. As they were talking, the deputy saw Preston drive by. As the call continued, Preston told the deputy he saw three young boys shooting cans with a pellet gun near his fence line, and then heard his son start crying. Preston said he found his son bleeding from the eye. He then called the boy’s mother to come home from work.

Preston soon admitted to the deputy that he and the boy’s mother were both at home the previous night when he came to the door, and he also admitted to giving the neighbor boys a pellet gun. He then denied owning a pellet gun himself, and denied having one in the home.

The deputy looked at the property and couldn’t find any footprints in the snow or cans in the area where Preston said he observed the boys shooting the pellet gun.

A search warrant was executed at the home Wednesday, where investigators observed rotting food and garbage, animal feces, fruit flies and other insects inside. They also found a pellet gun between Preston’s mattress and box spring. He told investigators he didn’t know the weapon was there, and he thought it had burned in a shed fire.

Investigators also found a hypodermic needle and a plastic baggy that contained traces of methamphetamine in a bathroom vanity, which was easily accessible to the child. Preston told investigators that “he thought he had thrown everything away after his previous drug arrest.”

Preston was arrested and taken to Aitkin County Jail. He was charged Friday with two counts of felony third-degree assault, two counts of felony child endangerment, a misdemeanor count of domestic assault, and three drug charges that ranged in severity from gross misdemeanor to felony. He could face up to 26 years in prison if convicted.

Investigators say the pellet did not hit the boy’s actual eye, but instead was lodged under his eyebrow.

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