By Elsie Lynn Parini
On Monday, a grand jury at the Rutland Criminal Court charged Craig Mosher, owner of Mosher Excavation in Killington, with one-count of involuntary manslaughter following an investigation of a fatal car accident last summer involving a collision with a Scottish Highlander bull owned by Mosher that resulted in the death of the driver.
Mosher, 61, and his attorney Matthew G. Hart immediately issued a plea of not guilty and plan to fight the charge. The Vermont statute for manslaughter calls for a fine of not more than $3,000, or imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than 15 years, or both.
The accident resulting in the charge occurred on the evening on July 31, 2015. According to the state police reports, troopers from the Rutland Vermont State Police Barracks responded to the fatal car crash on Route 4 in Killington. Upon arrival, police discovered that a Subaru Crosstrek had been traveling west on U.S. Route 4 near the Bridgewater line when it stuck a large Scottish Highlander bull that had escaped from its pasture at Mosher Excavation.
After striking the bull the vehicle continued to travel westbound down a small grassy hill before colliding with a tree. The operator of the vehicle, later identified as Jon M. Bellis, 64, from Woodbridge, Conn., was fatally injured during the crash and died at the scene, police reported.
The Scottish Highlander bull was also killed.
“It was a shock to Craig,” said Hart on Tuesday. “It’s a horrible thing and a tragic accident. It’s sad, and Craig feels terrible about it, obviously.” However, Hart added, “it becomes a different issue when you start holding someone criminally liable for something that was clearly an accident.”
One passenger and a dog were present in the vehicle at the time of the crash. Passenger Kathryn Barry, 60, also of Woodbridge, was transported to Rutland Regional Medical Center for treatment to her right wrist. Bellis and Barry own a condo at Pinnacle Condominium Association in Killington, which they had frequently visited on weekends.
Their dog, a golden retriever named “Leo,” escaped from the vehicle and was lost for a few days. A group of locals and friends successfully located Leo on Aug. 4, after receiving sightings from the community. Leo was reunited with Barry in Connecticut.
The grand jury made the following charge on Monday:
“That on July 31, 2015, Craig Mosher, of Killington … was a person who acted with criminal negligence and caused the death of another… by having notice that his Scottish Highlander bull was loose and failed to contain his bull or alert others to this danger and, that his failure to take action caused the death of Jon Bellis.”
Hart and local law enforcement officials were surprised by the charge.
“There are a lot of issues we dispute from the charge, like that Craig should have known his bull was out in the road,” said Hart. “We intend to show that Craig did get out there and try to locate the bull after he was alerted that his bull was loose from a passerby,” Hart said.
“I’ve seen a lot of cases similar to this—farm animals escape all the time—and I can’t recall a time that criminal charges were brought,” Hart continued. “Usually a matter like this is solved with a civil lawsuit.”
“I’ve been with the Killington Police for over 17 years, and I don’t remember any other issues with animals like this,” said Killington Police Chief Whit Montgomery, adding that the Vermont state police have their own records of these incidents, which may reflect differently. “It is tragic all the way around,” Montgomery added during a phone call Tuesday, “for the victim’s family and for Craig Mosher. Craig is a good member of our community. I’m at a loss for words; it’s really tough.”
Mosher was released with standard conditions. He may not have contact with Barry or the family, and he must keep his remaining animals contained. Mosher still has one Highland bull, several sheep and donkeys.
Hart and Mosher are preparing for depositions and interviews, and are arranging to have an accident reconstructionist come to recreate a picture of what happened that night. “There were eye witnesses who can give accounts about what happened that night,” said Hart, mentioning that eye-witness reports may indicate the car made no attempt to brake before striking the bull. “Those accounts can absolutely change how this case is presented.”