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Rancher Arrested for Manslaughter After Woman Dies in Collision with Steer

Rancher Arrested for Manslaughter After Woman Dies in Collision with Steer

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LOGAN, Utah (AP) -- A 69-year-old rancher who authorities allege habitually lets his cattle run loose was arrested for manslaughter after a woman was killed in an accident involving one of his steers, police said.

Darrell Kunzler of Benson was arrested Monday, according to the Utah High Patrol. The charges were filed after a woman was killed Nov. 27 when her vehicle collided with one of Kunzler's Black Angus steers on State Road 30, or Valley View Highway.

According to an arrest warrant, Kunzler has demonstrated a 30-year pattern of failing to properly contain his livestock, despite repeated requests by law enforcement.

The warrant cites 31 police reports from the last four years regarding Kunzler's stray cattle, including five collisions involving cows that escaped from the field onto the highway.

"If there was one thing I wanted to emphasize, it's that this isn't a standard farmer or rancher stray-cattle problem," prosecutor Scott Wyatt of the Cache County Attorney's Office told The Herald Journal.

"It would have to be outrageous before we felt like it was appropriate to file charges like this. There have been a lot of cattle-car accidents in this valley, and none of those rise to a level of a crime. It's just when there's complete disregard."

Kunzler is charged with one count of criminal homicide-manslaughter in the death of Kimberly Johnson of Auburn, Wash., the 40-year-old mother of six who was killed Nov. 27. He also faces five misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.

Johnson had been driving westbound in her sedan around 1:15 a.m. when she struck the steer, which flipped up onto the roof of the vehicle and crushed her. She died instantly.

There are no street lights and a speed limit of 60 mph on that section of State Road 30, the warrant states. And there were no skidmarks on the highway leading up to the point of impact, suggesting that Johnson never saw the black animal.

According to the warrant, there is only a ditch and no fence along the south side of Kunzler's field. And at the point of the field closest to the intersection, there is a gap between the ditch and the fence.

"We've been asking for a fence to be put there for years, and we've been asking for him to fix his fences for years, and compliance is usually little or none in what we request," Sgt. Rick Mayo of the Utah Highway Patrol said.

According to the warrant, Kunzler once made comments to two UHP troopers indicating a "complete disregard" for the danger posed by his stray cattle.

"He (Kunzler) said words to the effect, 'I don't care if my cows are hit by cars I make more money claiming them on my insurance than selling them at the auction,"' the warrant states.

Kunzler exhibited a similar attitude after being called to the scene of the Nov. 27 incident, according to the warrant, acting and speaking as if he was "completely indifferent to both the death of Kimberly Johnson and his steer."

Two of the reckless endangerment charges against Kunzler involve Johnson's children, Tucker, 11, and Hailey, 14, who were not seriously injured in the accident. The third count involves Strickland, who drove upon the accident scene and hit the dead steer, which was lying in the roadway.

The fourth count involves Spencer Wight, who collided with one of Kunzler's cows Oct. 22, and the fifth for Derek Hill, who hit a cow in November 2003. Both accidents happened on State Road 30.

An unidentified woman who answered the phone at Kunzler's residence declined comment.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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