BILLINGS, Mont. -- A West Virginia man who claimed to be the victim of a drive-by shooting along a rural Montana highway while working on a memoir called "Kindness in America" has confessed to shooting himself, authorities said Friday.
Valley County sheriff's officials said they believe 39-year-old Ray Dolin shot himself as a desperate act of self-promotion, but they offered no further details.
Dolin, of Julian, W.Va., acknowledged he concocted the tale about the random shooting after he was confronted by investigators at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Miles City where he is recovering, said Sheriff Glen Meier.
Charges were pending, and the case remains under investigation. Dolin has not been arrested, but the weapon he allegedly used to carry out the scheme has been recovered, the sheriff said.
Dolin had claimed he was hitchhiking along U.S. Highway 2 west of Glasgow on Saturday when the driver of a maroon pickup pulled to a stop and shot him in the upper arm with no provocation.
Authorities later arrested Lloyd Christopher Danielson III, 52, and charged him with felony assault. That charge was dropped Thursday, although Danielson remained in custody, accused of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he was arrested.
Story continues below, with slideshow of Dolin
Meier indicated that Danielson denied any role in shooting after he was put into custody.
"I had the worst feeling he was telling me the absolute truth," Meier said. "I kept telling him that we are seekers of the truth and we are going to work very hard to find out the truth of this incident. ... It was a great moment when I sent someone up to the jail to tell him he had nothing to do with it."
Dolin runs a photography business called OneShot Impressions, which has as its logo the cross-hairs of a rifle scope.
He could not be reached for comment Friday. But Dolin said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press – before his alleged confession – that he recently had taken a bus from West Virginia to Sidney, Mont., and then began traveling across the state working on his memoir about people's kindness.
Asked about Danielson being cleared, Dolin said in the interview that he was reluctant to comment because of the ongoing investigation and quickly changed the subject.
He talked at length about his planned photographic memoir, offering several supposed instances in which strangers had gone out of their way to help him along his journey. And just hours before his alleged confession, he repeated the claim that he was shot as he was stopped on the side of the road preparing a meal.
Dolin said no words were exchanged with the supposed gunman and that he never got a good look at the perpetrator.
"He came up, pulls up at a normal speed, stops, points, shoots and drives off. It's as simple as that," Dolin said. "I did not get a good description."
The woman who stopped to help Dolin said Friday that she had no suspicions at the time that he could have been responsible for his own wound. Sherry Alveson, of Malta, said she stopped after her daughter saw Dolin waving his jacket on the side of the road trying to flag down passing vehicles.
"He had blood down his arms, all over his clothes, and he was bleeding and shivering and shaky," Alveson said of her initial encounter with Dolin. "I wasn't going to leave him sitting there."
Alveson said that even as she waited with the wounded Dolin for emergency personnel to arrive, he began talking about his memoir. She said he brought it up again when she visited him in a Glasgow hospital the next day.
She only became suspicious after reading in Friday's paper that Danielson had been released. Alveson said that made her wonder if the shooter was still at large or if Dolin shot himself.
Still, she said it wouldn't have changed her decision to stop along the highway last weekend.
"Whether it was self-inflicted or somebody else did it, he needed help," Alveson said.
Authorities arrested Danielson – a Tumwater, Wash., man apparently in the region to work in the Bakken oil fields – based on a match between his vehicle and a description offered by Dolin. The arrest occurred near Culbertson, about 100 miles from where a passerby found Dolin wounded on the side of the road.
He was exonerated after his vehicle was examined under a search warrant, Meier said, declining to give further details. Federal agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted in the case.