Bobby Canipe
© WSCOTVShot: Bobby Canipe is recovering in hospital after a deputy fired at him

A disabled Vietnam vet was shot in the stomach by police in South Carolina as he reached for his cane during a traffic stop.

Bobby Canipe, 70, is recovering from emergency surgery after York County deputy Terrence Knox fired several times on Tuesday evening.

Mr Canipe had been pulled over near Clover for an expired license as he returned from a day out to watch car racing.

The 24-year-old deputy believed the elderly man was trying to grab a rifle from the back of his pick up truck and fired at him, with one bullet striking Mr Canipe.

'Deputy Knox was forced to make a split-second, life-or-death decision and fired his weapon several times, striking Canipe once,' Trent Faris, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said.

Joe Ashwell, who was driving along the same road at the time of the shooting, said he heard gunfire and saw an officer trying to help a man on the ground.

'The officer that had to do the shooting, he was really freaked out about it. He was screaming on the radio about needing help,' Mr Ashwell told WSOCTV.

A spokesman for Carolinas Medical Center, where Mr Canipe is being treated, said he is in fair condition after the incident.

His friend, Carolyn McEntire, 74, was in the truck at the time of the shooting but declined to comment on the incident.

After being pulled over Mr Canipe had got out of his truck and walked to the back to reach for what the deputy believed was a rifle.

Mr Faris described the incident as 'very unfortunate,' and added: 'It does appear, at this time, that Deputy Knox's actions were an appropriate response to what he reasonably believed to be an imminent threat to his life.'

The State Law Enforcement Division will investigate the shooting and turn its findings over to prosecutors, who will decide whether to press charges, Faris said.

Knox, who has been a deputy for three years, has been put on paid leave while an investigation is carried out.

The sheriff's department is not planning on releasing the dash cam video of the incident.