The driver of a semi-truck transporting minerals to a nearby bentonite plant collided with a herd of 110 cattle on Tuesday afternoon on Highway 14A near the causeway east of Lovell, narrowly missing two cowboys on horseback who were driving the herd down the highway.
As of Wednesday morning, at least 16 cattle either died on impact or had to be put down due to severe injuries. A veterinarian was on the scene at press time evaluating whether more cattle would need to be put down.
According to Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn, the cattle (a combination of Angus and long horns) belonged to the nearby McNabb ranch. He said the cowboys had called the “proper authorities” (the highway department) to notify them that they would be moving the cattle from the Crystal Creek area east of the causeway to the Beaver Creek area west of the causeway.
At around 1:30 p.m., Darold Newman and his 11-year-old nephew Trent McNabb were on the highway in the process of moving the cattle when Michael Daniels, 56, allegedly drove at full speed into the herd. Lieutenant Phil Farman of the Wyoming Highway Patrol said investigators estimate that the semi-truck driven by Daniels was travelling at a speed of approximately 65 mph.
Blackburn, who was at the scene shortly after the incident occurred and into the night, said witnesses reported that a number of vehicles had stopped for the cattle on the road and had their hazard lights flashing prior to Daniels approaching with his vehicle. Some told Blackburn that Daniels “blew by them” without slowing down. One witness reported that he appeared to be talking on a cell phone at the time.
Daniels also hit a second vehicle, a 2014 Subaru, which was stopped for the cattle, driven by Robert O’Donnell of Columbia, Md. Farman said he did not know how badly the vehicle was damaged or if O’Donnell was injured.
Daniels was taken by ambulance to North Big Horn Hospital. It was unclear what, if any, injuries he sustained during the accident. Farman said the truck was towed from the scene. He said Daniels was charged with driving too fast for the conditions. He said no other charges were pending that he was aware of.
The grisly scene disrupted traffic traveling in both directions for hours on Highway 14A. Members of the Lovell Fire Department helped funnel traffic through a single lane around the carnage. Blackburn said they also brought water for the surviving cattle, which appeared to be very stressed from the incident. He noted that some of the cows were pregnant. He said many appeared to have broken legs, backs and other serious injuries and had to be shot at the scene.
“I think the Lord looked out for these cowboys today,” said Blackburn. “It was a tragedy for the cattle but a blessing for the cowboys, who could have easily been killed. You can replace cows but you can’t replace people.”
Sheriff’s deputies helped move the remaining cattle off the road. Many worked into the night to help local rancher Ken McNabb and others trying to attend to the cattle that survived.
Blackburn said it was unclear why Daniels didn’t stop like the multiple other vehicles did.
“People here are used to seeing this sort of thing here in Wyoming,” said Blackburn. “Stopping for cattle being moved on the road is normal here. It’s what we do in an open range state.”
By Patti Carpenter