Rancher Cliven Bundy says a Las Vegas woman injured when her car hit a cow on Interstate 15 near Mesquite should be suing the federal government instead of him.
In a statement issued late Thursday night by the Bundys, the embattled Bunkerville family said the real negligence belongs to federal authorities who scattered and distressed their cattle during a failed roundup that ended less than two days before Danielle Beck’s April 14 car accident.
The 34-year-old schoolteacher recently filed suit against Bundy, who she claims “recklessly, carelessly and negligently allowed his cows to enter onto Interstate 15 through an area where he had no grazing or other rights.”
Bundy initially told the Review-Journal that the animal struck by Beck’s car was his. He later told the Associated Press, “It could be anybody’s cow.”
Thursday’s statement from the Bundy family skirts the ownership question and blames the accident on the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies that wouldn’t allow the Bundys to go near their livestock during the impound operation.
The roundup was hastily canceled and the cows released on April 12, after a tense standoff along I-15 between authorities and Bundy supporters, many of them armed militia members.
“It was the very next night that Danielle Beck hit one of the distressed cattle,” the Bundys statement says. “By this time the surviving cattle had been scattered by air into areas they normally may not have gone, shot at, sore footed, many captured and held inhumanely. They were looking for their calves and looking for water.”
The irony, the Bundys say, is that “Cliven’s life would have been taken by federal agents if he would have checked on the cattle, yet he is charged for neglect, carelessness and recklessness for not doing so.”
The statement goes on to accuse Beck’s attorney, Bob Apple, of caring more about “getting his name in the paper” than he does about his client, which is why he is “going after the easy prey” by suing “some poor rancher” instead of state and federal authorities.
But Apple said he never sought out any publicity for this case; he simply answered the media’s questions when they contacted him.
“We’re not picking on Mr. Bundy because he’s an easy target,” Apple said. “Our information is that he’s the owner of the cow in question.”
The collision on the interstate killed the animal and sent Beck and her boyfriend, Matthew Zanatta, to the hospital. According to the Nevada Highway Patrol’s accident report, authorities at the scene had to herd four other cows off the highway that night through a hole in the fence.
Nevada Department of Transportation officials have acknowledged that the state owns and maintains the fences along the I-15, but said ranchers have a responsibility to control their animals.
Another cow was hit by a vehicle on I-15 near Mesquite early this month.
To reach the interstate from Bundy’s 160-acre ranch, about 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas, his cattle must cross miles of federal land for which the rancher holds no valid grazing permits. Twice since 1998 a federal judge has ordered Bundy to remove livestock from government range or risk having them impounded.
Bundy, a states’ rights advocate, refuses to acknowledge federal authority over public lands.
Beck’s lawsuit in Clark County District Court seeks at least $20,000 in damages.
Bundy has represented himself in previous legal proceedings, but he hasn’t said if he would do so again.
Proving ownership of the cow could prove crucial to Beck’s lawsuit. Though the accident report lists Bundy as the owner, Highway Patrol spokesman Loy Hixon said the animal was not marked with a brand.
During the government roundup in April, Bundy was vehement that any cattle found on the range, branded or not, belonged to him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter: @RefriedBrean.