Trooper Puts Down Cows After Crash: 'It's Heart-Wrenching'

December 3, 2015 10:31 AM

By: Alisha Roemeling, The Register-Guard

Oregon State Police Trooper Anthony Mathews shot the cow dead.

And then he had to do it again and again and again.

"It's heart-wrenching," Mathews said at the scene along Highway 126 west of Walterville, where a truck pulling a trailer with 68 cattle overturned Tuesday afternoon. "They're more or less like pets, and it's hard, but you have to do what's right for them and not let them suffer."

Mathews, a wildlife division trooper with state police, was assigned to kill a total of 12 injured cows trapped inside the trailer.

Mathews said he'd had to kill animals before, mostly wildlife.

As the shots from Mathews' handgun rang out, bystanders and emergency crew members winced and plugged their ears. Mathews was equipped with ear protection to cancel out the sharp sounds.

Mathews said there were "many more" animals already dead within the trailer.

Once confirmed dead, the cows were dragged from the trailer with a long metal cable and placed into another trailer. A co-owner of the truck and trailer, Ron Langley of Monroe, said the carcasses would likely be taken to a designated dump, as they could not be used for meat.

"A lot of them have broken legs and bones," Langley said of the animals. "There's no way for us to get them up or use them, so we have to shoot them."

Langley works for Apache Transport, a Junction City company that hauls livestock and construction materials.

The owner of the cows was also on the scene and helped troopers decipher which animals could be salvaged.

The truck driver had minor injuries and was not taken to a hospital, law enforcement officials said.

The truck sheared a tree and also struck a power pole, which downed lines and cut power to several nearby homes and businesses.

Following the crash, several cows escaped to a nearby field through a hole in the top of trailer, according to state police trooper Sgt. Vonn Schleicher, who said he was unsure how many cows were alive, dead or injured. The trailer likely was ripped open on impact, Schleicher said.

The cows that remained trapped inside the trailer could be heard mooing and kicking the metal trailer, prompting officials to decide to shoot the "severely injured" animals, Schleicher said.

The area where the truck overturned has been the scene of multiple crashes over the years, according to several neighbors.

A driver who crashed his state-owned tanker truck on Dec. 30, 2014, spilled a load of 11,000 juvenile salmon in the same spot. The driver, who struck a power pole, was later determined to have a blood alcohol level of 0.29 percent, state police said at the time.

The scene at Tuesday's crash was eerily familiar, according to 38-year-old Penny Burns, who said crashes in the area are "a constant problem."

"That's the exact same spot the fish truck crashed," Burns said. "There are so many crashes here. ... I mean look at my fence, it's had to be replaced because of it."

Burns said she was the first to call 911.

"As soon as I heard it, I came out and saw one (cow) take off," Burns said. "They were all mooing and kicking very loudly."

Burns said the driver got out of the truck quickly.

"The guy was hurt a little, he was bleeding from the head and looked like he may have broken his nose, but he was walking and talking just fine," Burns said.

Marlin Lay, 56, said he was arriving home just up the street when the crash happened.

"Speeding is what got him," Lay said. "He hit that tree so hard, he bounced back into the highway."

Lay, who has lived off Cedar Flat Road for more than 20 years, said the area is prone to crashes because of its curves.

"You're going 55 (mph), then all of the sudden it's 45 and the road is curving," Lay said. "There's a sign right there that says 45 and they don't pay attention."

Police said Wednesday that speed was a reason the truck failed to negotiate the turn. The driver was cited for failing to drive within his lane.

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