August 9, 2012
A black steer that wandered onto Colorado 94 on Monday, leading to the death of a 10-year-old boy, belongs to the Book Ranch and likely was looking for green weeds to eat in the drought-plagued area.
The crash between vehicle and livestock happened just before 9:30 p.m. Monday. According to the State Patrol, a Hyundai sedan driven by Michael Skaggs was rolling west on the highway when it crashed into the animal, unable to be seen in the darkness.
Samuel Skaggs, 10, was taken to Memorial Hospital and died from his injuries Tuesday morning, the State Patrol said. Michael Skaggs suffered two broken arms.
The fences along both sides of the highway just east of Harding Road don’t appear to be in disrepair. Lanny Book said with recent drought conditions between Yoder and Rush, livestock sometimes find their way around fences in search of green things to munch.
“We’re out of grass,” said Lanny Book, who helps son Bob Book manage the family ranch adjacent to the highway where the accident occurred. “The green weeds along the ditches are very enticing.”
The pastures on the Book Ranch, feet from where the animal died, are void of grass. All that can be seen are acre after acre of brown weeds and dusty ground. Lanny Book said rain seems to miss the land surrounding the ranch.
“From Yoder west, they’re green, but it’s spotty,” he said, noting that Book cattle will be moved Friday, either to a feed lot or shipped off to market.
The move is one that most ranchers don’t usually make until the fall, said Chris Whitney, Colorado Department of Agriculture livestock brand commissioner. Whitney said dry conditions, “especially in the eastern plains,” have many ranchers doing the same.
Bob Book called Whitney on Wednesday afternoon and confirmed the steer belonged to the Book family.
Book said he did a head count of his cattle Wednesday afternoon and came up one short. Book then re-examined the animal, still lying in the green ditch next to Colorado 94, and determined the steer was his.
“It doesn’t matter if it were ours or somebody else’s, it makes me sick to my stomach to know that somebody was hurt,” Bob Book said.
The fences near the ditch along Colorado 94 were installed by the Colorado Department of Transportation to keep animals out of the roadway.
“We have fences in the right of way along all state highways,” said Stacey Stegman, a spokeswoman for CDOT.
According to Lanny Book, small cows or other animals might be able to squeeze under the barbed wire if they’re hungry enough.
If that did happen, it would be “very unlikely to hold the rancher responsible,” Whitney said, “unless it can be established that the livestock owner had been negligent. Then you’ve got an arguable case against the owner.”
Stegman said CDOT could also be deemed negligent if a broken fence was reported and not fixed. She said the State Patrol confirmed that the Department of Transportation fences near the crash site were not damaged, and the black steer likely walked around the fence, entering the highway from one of the county roads.
Contact Matt Steiner at 636-0362 or follow him on Twitter @gazsteiner.