An unusual and closely watched legal case involving a bull that caused a traffic fatality in Killington has come to a close.
Killington resident Craig Mosher, pleaded guilty Wednesday to reckless endangerment in the death of 62-year-old Jon Bellis, of Woodbridge, Connecticut.
Mosher's face was drawn as he entered Rutland County Criminal Court. Asked by the judge if he understood he was waiving his right to a trial, the 63-year old softly answered, "yes, sir."
In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped their involuntary manslaughter charge to reckless endangerment — a lesser felony that can bring up to a year in prison.
The charges stem from a crash that occurred on July 31, 2015. Jon Bellis and his wife, Kathryn Barry, were driving to their condo in Killington when their car struck an 1,800-pound Scottish Highland bull that had wandered onto nearby Route 4. It was one of two bulls owned by Mosher.
In an earlier interview with VPR, Kathryn Barry described what happened.
"Just out of the freakin' darkness was this insanely large beast and I jolted and said, 'Oh my God, what' ... and before I could even finish my sentence we crashed into it. It was like crashing into a brick wall," said Barry.
"I know Jon died instantly," she continued. "I know he died instantly because he did not put his arm out as he would always do if he was going to come to a short stop. He didn't say, 'KB, Holy shit! Hold on!' He didn't groan, there was no distress. I was like, 'Dear God.'"
Both Bellis and the bull died at the scene.
Many initially called what happened a tragic accident.
But Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy said the bulls had repeatedly wandered into the road, yet Mosher had not taken appropriate action to contain them. She played a number of 911 calls in court from frightened motorists who reported seeing the animals in the busy roadway on several different occasions.
When a grand jury voted last year to indict Mosher on criminal charges, farmers worried about the precedent such a case would set. And Mosher’s many friends were outraged.
The 63-year-old, Killington resident owns an excavating company and is something of a local hero for road repair work he did after Tropical Storm Irene.
But Rose Kennedy said it was important to send a message that animal owners are responsible for their animals, whether its a dog that bites or an 1800 pound bull that wanders.
In the plea deal, approved by Judge Cortland Corsones, Mosher was sentenced to six months to a year of prison, all suspended, with two years of probation. He will also have to perform 50 hours of community service and pay a $500 fine.
Addressing the court, Mosher sighed audibly before speaking: “My deepest condolences and prayers go out to the Bellis family for this tragic accident ... It’s broken my heart and I live it every day.”
When Kathryn Barry had a chance to speak to the court, she described how difficult life had become for her without her husband of 37 years and how difficult it was for their two children.
“Jon was my rock and he was the glue that held our family together,” she said.
While Barry told the judge she accepted his sentence, she said she would have preferred to see Mosher go to trial for manslaughter saying the crash that killed her husband was no accident.
Ray Duquette Sr., President of the Rutland County Farm Bureau says the charge of involuntary manslaughter should never have been brought against Mosher. He says he’s planning to meet with the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation in August and will bring this issue up.
“We feel this has set a bad precedent nationwide for any animal owner," says Duquette. "It doesn’t have to be a cow, a bull. It doesn’t have to be a Vermont farmer. This is a national issue which will effect any animal owner responsible for a fatal accident."
Updated 5:30 p.m. to include further reporting.