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John Hollenhorst ReportingProsecutors in Northern Utah say a rancher's failure to keep his cattle off a highway is so outrageous they simply had to file manslaughter charges. A mother of six was killed when she hit one of his cows on Thanksgiving Night. Prosecutors say they expect to document more than 100 instances in which Darrel Kunzler's cattle have gotten loose. And the fatal crash late last month was not the first serious accident.
More than thirty law enforcement officers are prepared to testify they've warned Kunzler about his cattle over the years, in dozens of different incidents. Now he faces up to 15 years in prison for allegedly failing to take the warnings seriously.
Part of Darrelll Kunzler's cattle herd is fenced in. But the most crucial stretch alongside busy Highway 30 had no fence at all on Thanksgiving Night.
Sgt. Tony Hutson, Utah Highway Patrol: “He’s been very neglectful.”
For many years only a shallow irrigation ditch bordered the pasture. An electric wire was installed after the Thanksgiving night crash. At 1:15 a.m., Kimberly Johnson collided with a Black Angus steer on the 60 mile an hour highway. She was killed instantly.
Law enforcement officials portray the accident as the last straw after years of frustration.
Sgt. Tony Hutson, Utah Highway Patrol: “Well we have 12 accidents or incidents right in this area in the last, I think since ’92.”
George Daines, Cache County Attorney: “More than 100 incidents when we’re through investigating this matter.”
The county attorney says Kunzler's failure to do anything to get his cattle under control is the reason he was charged with manslaughter.
George Daines, Cache County Attorney: “And I hope the ranchers of the valley and the dairy men will stand with us as we say this kind of conduct should not be tolerated.”
According to the court document, even on the night of the accident Kunzler spoke and acted as if he were completely indifferent to the death of Kimberly Johnson and that of his own steer. And he exhibited no remorse.
Indeed, officers say Kunzler occasionally told them he comes out ahead financially when his cattle are hit by cars.
Sgt. Tony Hutson: “Yeah, he has made the claim to some retired and current troopers that he makes more money from the insurance claims than he does selling at auction.”
Kunzler didn't return our calls and his son wouldn't talk either.
One law enforcement official told us he's starting to ask himself a tough question: With all the near tragedies in the past, why didn't the law get tougher with Kunzler a long time ago? He couldn't answer his own question.