Tellico golfers remember slain friendBy Mark Boxley thedailytimes.com
The “stat-man,” the “golf person of Tellico Village,” a “damn good person” — these are just a few of the ways friends of Larry Butcher described the man who was killed Friday in an apparent road rage incident involving him and another Tellico Village resident.
Butcher, 74, was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest — reportedly inflicted by Norman B. Whitton, 69, who claims he fired in self-defense during an altercation with the other man. Whitton is currently free on a $250,000 bond on a charge of second-degree murder pending a June 2 preliminary hearing in Loudon County General Sessions Court.
The incident that ended with Butcher lying on the ground mortally wounded, reportedly started when Butcher was driving his golf cart home on the roadway after a game of golf. Whitton was driving his vehicle on the same road and allegedly honked his horn at Butcher, which resulted in the two men having words. According to Loudon County Sheriff Tim Guider, it appears Butcher turned his golf cart around to talk to Whitton and the two vehicles were parked side-by-side before the man apparently got out of the cart and approached Whitton's vehicle. At some point, Whitton pulled out a revolver and shot Butcher one time in the chest — after which, Butcher staggered to the rear of Whitton's vehicle and collapsed.
Guider reportedly said the incident stemmed from the two men arguing over the use of the roadway. According to authorities, it does not appear the two men had a relationship before the incident, though they lived less than a mile from each other and the shooting happened about half way between their respective residences.
Lee Huffaker, a Maryville Middle School teacher and member of Butcher's golfing group at Tellico Village, said the man's death has been incredibly hard on the Village community.
The ‘golf person'
“Larry is probably the golf person of Tellico Village,” he said. “He knew everybody's handicaps; his nickname was ‘stat-man.'”
The reaction upon hearing the news that Butcher — a fixture at Tellico Village for more than 15 years, who organized and ran numerous golf events, charity-based and otherwise — was, “stunned, you talk about stunned,” Huffaker said.
A few members of the group Butcher usually played with on Fridays decided to go ahead and play, but the group, which usually numbered more than 30, was whittled down to 12. “Larry would probably want us to go ahead and (play),” Huffaker said. “Keep our minds off of it for those three or four hours.”
But even playing golf was a harsh reminder of the group's lost leader, the members' lost friend. “You had mixed emotions,” Huffaker said. “It was like, what does it matter if we play well or not because we lost a friend.”
Players couldn't celebrate good shots because Butcher wasn't there to share them; and they couldn't feel bad about lousy plays because in the grand scheme, “life is so much more important than that.”
After the news of Butcher's death circulated among the Village community members, “I've never seen the whole atmosphere ... so somber,” Huffaker said.
Bruce Wigder, a four-year resident of Tellico Village, was another member of Butcher's golfing group.
“Mr. Butcher was a phenomenal human being,” he said. “He was one of the most well-liked people in the Village. “We here in the Village are taking this extremely hard,” he continued. “The community right now is in shock. He was a well-loved man; he didn't have a mean bone in his body. “For something like this to happen to someone like him, is just amazing.”Wigder was one of the players who decided to go ahead and play golf after Butcher's death, “because I just needed the release,” he said. “I just needed to hit something, so I hit the little white ball.”
More than anything, community members just can't believe that a simple road-rage incident could end with one resident dead and another charged with killing him. “It is such a senseless death,” Wigder said. “No reason for it whatsoever. “We're all reeling, reeling from the whole thing.”
Gene Rightmyer, who has known Butcher for more than 15 years — since Butcher moved into the Tellico Village community — said there isn't, and just can't be another Larry Butcher. “It's going to be tough for anyone to take his place,” he said. “I don't think anyone can.”
From organizing charity events for Habitat for Humanity and the Senior Olympics, to keeping track of private games amongst the community residents, “I'd say Larry's touched most of the golfers in the Village,” Rightmyer said. The whole community is “still kind of in denial, like a bad dream,” he said. “You just can't believe it happened.”
None of the three men — Huffaker, Wigder or Rightmyer — were overly familiar with Whitton and could not say much about the man, aside from their feelings that no matter what the altercation entailed, the shooting shouldn't have happened. People on the practice green of the first hole “could hear the (car) horn, they could hear the vulgarity between the two, and they could hear the shot,” Huffaker said.
“People are aghast at what happened,” Wigder said. “There were all kinds of options available to (Whitton other than the gun) ... from our standpoint, it is just such a ridiculous death.”
For Huffaker, the realization of Butcher being gone for good really hit Saturday when players from his group came together to play, and the score cards Butcher usually prepared for every player were conspicuously absent. “Now, every one of the guys who golf with Larry, or most of them, played golf today (Saturday),” Huffaker said. “(There were) seven groups of four and one group of three, and that was Larry's spot. “We're in disbelief, totally, utterly disbelief.”