It was after 10 p.m. last July 31. The Connecticut couple driving west on Route 4 never saw the 1,800-pound Scottish Highland bull that was standing in their lane.
Jon Bellis, 62, was killed, so was the bull. Bellis’ wife Kathryn Barry Bellis sustained minor injuries.
Craig Mosher, the Killington resident who owned the animal, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and could face 15 years in prison.
The case has sparked outrage from many farmers and friends of Mosher, who say it was an accident. But prosecutors say the bull had repeatedly wandered and Mosher failed to act.
The case is being watched closely by farmers in and out of Vermont who worry it could raise their insurance rates and set a dangerous precedent.
Kathryn Barry Bellis remembers the crash well. It was Friday night and she and her husband were driving to their condominium in Killington. “It was pitch dark out, she says. "It was not well lit."
“There was no other traffic,” she added. “If there had been it would have been backlit for us to see. This beast was standing passively in the middle of Route 4, just standing there.”
“Jon was my best friend for the last 40 years. We met my senior year of high school and his death has just been devastating to me and my family," she says.
Barry Bellis says her grief at losing her husband turned to outrage when she learned that Mosher’s bull had been seen in the roadway on multiple occasions, including the previous night. “It wasn’t an accident. It was not an accident,” she repeats, her voice cracking. “It was a crash with a danger that was repeatedly on Route 4.”
Craig Mosher, 61, owns an excavating company in Killington. According to evidence submitted by the prosecutor, state troopers were notified that a bull allegedly owned by Mosher was loose on four separate occasions. A fifth report cited a cow allegedly belonging to the defendant walking in the roadway.
On July 26, 2015, five days before Bellis’ death, Windsor County Deputy Sherriff Tyler Trombley testified that a motorist had informed him that Mosher’s bull was out of its pasture.
Trombley drove to the defendant’s property on route four and saw Mosher attempting to contain the animal. According to the report, Mosher told the deputy that he knew his bull gets out through the fence.
Burlington Attorney Jerome O’Neill, who’s representing Kathryn Barry Bellis, says, “It’s as much about turning a blind eye to the safety of the animal as it is to people.”
O’Neill continues: “The facts here show that the bull involved, an 1,800-pound pet, owned by someone who is not a farmer, was out on Route 4 many times and very little effort by the owner to get the animal back in ... In fact, that very night he knew it was out and made no effort to get the animal back in.”
According to police affidavits, on July 31, the night Jon Bellis was killed, Jeffrey Herrick narrowly missed hitting the bull with his milk truck.
Herrick knew the bull belonged to Mosher and reportedly drove to Mosher’s home just before 10 p.m. to tell him his bull had wandered across the highway to the Val Roc Motel.
Mosher told police he usually found the bull at a spruce tree on his property and went looking for the animal there. He told police when he didn’t find it he went back inside his house and fell asleep.
Craig Mosher did not return calls for comment, but his attorney, Paul Volk, says the police reports and the evidence supplied by the prosecutor don’t tell the whole story.
“There’s nothing in the discovery that’s been provided that indicates that the bull that was involved in this accident was a bull that was previously supposed to have been out," Volk says.
There are inconsistencies, he adds: “Sometimes it was reported as a cow, sometimes as a bull. There are several prior reports where when the police followed up there wasn’t a bull out; there wasn’t anything seen out.”
He says it’s also troubling that many of the reports were made by unidentified passersby.
Volk says police did find a gap in Mosher’s electric fence near an apple tree that had been pushed over, a gap that was large enough for a bull to escape. But he says his client had been unaware of it. “He was interviewed about it, and he indicated that when he had walked his property line earlier that evening of this tragic event, the fence was fine.”
“But to be blunt about it,” adds Volk, “animals have been slipping their bounds for as long as there has been animal husbandry. It happens on occasion.”
Ray Duquette Sr., the president of the Rutland county Farm Bureau, says farmers are understandably angry about the criminal charges facing Mosher.
“We’ve heard from people as far away as Texas about this case," he says.
He says many farmers worry it will raise their insurance rates. But Duquette believes the precedent could actually be much more far reaching. “It’s about any animal owner anywhere in the United States that causes an accident. If a dog runs out in the road and a car swerves and hits a tree and someone dies this could be brought up as a criminal charge if this precedent is set from this case and that’s what we’re afraid of," Duquette says.
Duquette says the Vermont Farm Bureau wants lawmakers to create some sort of legal protection for farmers so they can’t face criminal charges like Mosher.
Rutland Sen. Kevin Mullin says he and the other county senators have been inundated with emails about this case and he says they plan to meet with Duquette and others from the farm bureau June 28.
“It’s hard for someone growing up in Vermont to believe that someone is going to be charged for basically homicide because their animal got out – but again, we just don’t know the details and again, that’s for the trial.”
Rutland State’s attorney Rose Kennedy says no trial date has been set. But she points out this case is not about farming but about public safety – and the unique facts surrounding Craig Mosher that she and a grand jury felt warranted an indictment.