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Rancher to Stand Trial in Auto-Cow Fatality

Rancher to Stand Trial in Auto-Cow Fatality

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Benson cattleman Darrell Kunzler has been ordered to stand trial for manslaughter in the 2004 death of a Washington motorist who struck one of his steers.

Kunzler, 69, was bound over for trial on the manslaughter charge and four counts of reckless endangerment following a preliminary hearing before 1st District Court Judge Gordon Low on Thursday in Logan.

He is charged in the death of Kimberly Johnson, a 40-year-old mother of six from Auburn, Wash. She had just dropped off her oldest daughter, a student at Utah State University, in Logan, and was headed to her in-laws in Tremonton when she struck a black steer along Utah 30 about three miles west of Logan.

The steer smashed her windshield and roof, causing fatal head injuries to Johnson. Her Subaru Legacy sailed off the road and en ded upside down in a ditch.

Johnson's 14-year-old daughter, Hailey, and 10-year-old son, Tucker, were able to get out and flag down another motorist, who also did not see the steer and struck the carcass.

The reckless endangerment charges allege Kunzler endangered the children, the other motorist and another motorist who allegedly struck one of his cows the month before.

Defense attorney Greg Skordas contended prosecutors had not proven the steer was Kunzler's.

"There are cows in all the fields adjacent to this. No one knows where this cow came from," he said.

Kunzler told troopers that the steer was his and moved it to his property, but Skordas said that did not prove it was Kunzler's.

Former and current highway patrol troopers testified that for 30 years, Kunzler had defied warnings to fence in his cattle, and boasted of making money off insurance payouts when motorists struck the animals.

Claron Brenchley, a former trooper who worked in northern Utah for 22 years, said he was raised on a farm and was stunned to hear Kunzler's attitude toward his cattle back in the 1976 or 1977 when they first met.

He said that after a motorist struck one of the cows, he told the rancher to fix his fences.

"He said, 'I don't care if they get hit as long as insurance pays for them,' " Brenchley testified.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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