Equine law and criminal law seldom cross paths. When they do, it’s almost always because something terrible has happened.
Two weeks ago, driving on a stretch of road between two Amish communities in Western Kentucky, trucker Mark Bohms allegedly reached down to pick up a cigarette just as his big rig topped a hill. When Bohms looked up again, the truck was bearing down fast on a horse-drawn buggy. He tried to change lanes but could not, and the truck slammed into the buggy. Three-year-old Barbara Smoker was killed and three members of the toddler’s Amish family were injured. One of two horses pulling the buggy also was killed in the collision; the other was found apparently unharmed in a nearby field.
Bohms was charged with murder and several other offenses. At a July 18 preliminary hearing, Bohms’s attorney, Rick Boling, argued that the charge of murder was excessive because his client tried to avoid the collision and because he expected the state's post-accident drug test to be negative. A Christian County district judge disagreed and sent the case to a grand jury that will decide whether Bohms should be indicted for murder.
It’s a safe bet to predict that a horse-drawn buggy always will lose in a collision with an 18-wheeler, which leads to the question of whether buggies are a dangerous nuisance that should not be allowed on public highways at all. Bohms’s attorney, for example, reportedly called buggies "obstacles to traffic" after the preliminary hearing, and it’s a valid concern. Cars and trucks move fast; buggies do not. Ironically, the accident occurred a month after the Kentucky Court of Appeals rejected an argument from members of a strict Amish group that a state law requiring a brightly-colored safety emblem on horse-drawn buggies violated their religious beliefs. The court recognized the potential highway hazard posed by slow-moving buggies and ruled that the safety emblem requirement was constitutional.
Kentucky law classifies a horse-drawn buggy as a "slow-moving vehicle" that can be driven on public roads when equipped with a specified emblem to warn other drivers. It hasn’t been reported whether the Smokers’ buggy carried the required safety emblem. Whether an emblem, of the lack of one, would have made any difference is anybody’s guess. If there is a trial, though, I’m confident that there will be experts to testify on both sides of the question.
We’ll Be Back
Horses and the Law joined the blog stable in August 2009. Two years and more than 100 posts later, it’s time for a vacation. The plan is to be up and running again in September, but in the interim, please let us know what you like—and don’t like—about the blog. Are we too serious or too fluffy? Do you want to see more case reports, or not so many? How about legislative updates: too many or not enough; national or local? Do you want just the facts, like Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet, or more commentary? Are there topics you think we’re ignoring, or issues we’re running into the ground?
Let us know what you think. We may not incorporate all your suggestions, especially if they involve jumping off a cliff or something similar, but I promise we’ll read all the comments.
As always—Thanks for reading and commenting!