PULLMAN - A state trooper died early today after he was shot while investigating a dispute between neighbors In rural Ritchie County, authorities said.

The shooting of Trooper Larry G. Hacker sparked a 15-minute gun battle Thursday night between authorities and Pullman resident Dennis Ferguson, 67, who allegedly shot Hacker when the trooper arrived on the scene to resolve a dispute between Ferguson and a neighbor.

Ferguson, who was wounded but not shot in the incident, held paramedics who were trying to reach the fallen trooper at bay, said Col. Thorn Kirk, state police superintendent.

Trooper S.J. Verdow of the Harrisville detachment was with Hacker when the shooting began. Hacker was training Verdow, who graduated from the West Virginia State Police Academy In January.

"After we got the call, we walked to his (Ferguson's) house. It looked empty," Verdow said today. "I heard a shot and saw that Trooper Hacker was down, but I couldn't see where the shot was fired from."

The shooting was in a remote location about three miles south of Pullman, a tiny town of about 200 in southern Ritchie County.

Ritchie County Sheriff Mike Burwell said Hacker was shot once in the left side. Deputy Gary Hisssom darted into the open to drag Hacker from the firefight, Burwell said.

Hacker, a state police veteran, was conscious and at times alert before he was taken by helicopter to Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital In Parkersburg.

The 34-year-old Harrisville resident died shortly after arriving at the hospital at 12:10 a.m., authorities at the hospital said.

Ferguson was arrested about midnight Thursday in a wooded area near the scene, Kirk said. He has been charged with murder.

Ferguson, who witnesses said was bleeding from a cut over his right eye, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Parkersburg, where a nursing supervisor said he was treated for abrasions and turned over to state police.

He was taken to the Ritchie County Jail and remained there this morning, said Sgt. B.L Burner of the Shinnston state police detachment.

Ferguson's neighbor, Jack Langford, 48, said he called troopers about 9 p.m. Thursday after Ferguson parked his truck on Ritchie County Route 9-9 and blocked Langford from reaching his house.

He said he did not see the shots being fired and did not see Hacker being hit.

But when he realized shots had been fired, Langford said, "I got down behind some stuff because I didn't know where the shooting was coming from."

Langford, a guidance counselor at Ritchie County High School, would not say why he believed Ferguson blocked the road.

But his 86-year-old father, Hale, who also lives nearby, said problems between the two families started with a physical conflict involving himself and Ferguson about three years ago.

"He was out in his yard firing shots all day, before the police ever arrived, he said.

He said he heard at least 30 shots fired. "It was a regular war up there."

Sheriff Burwell said Ferguson and the Langfords have had an ongoing feud. He said authorities several times have had to come to the scene after the Langfords complained Ferguson came on their property and fired gunshots.

Ferguson has also sometimes parked his vehicle on the gravel wad leading to the Langford residence, Burwell said.

Kirk, who flew up to the scene of the shooting Thursday night, said at least two dozen officers from state police, the Ritchie County Sheriff's Department and area city police departments rushed to the scene.

"It was a simple call where Hacker and a trainee (Verdow) were approaching a house to settle a dispute," Kirk said this morning. "They had not even reached the door when they were fired on."