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Bushnell seeks probe in turkey case
PETA requested investigation of allegations
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
By BULLETIN STAFF REPORTS -
Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell has asked the Virginia State Police to investigate allegations that turkeys were mistreated after a truck hauling 600 of the birds overturned last week near Ridgeway.
Bushnell made the request after receiving a letter Tuesday from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a national animal rights organization. The letter alleges that turkeys were left in the overturned truck for hours after the Thursday morning wreck and were dying of heat exhaustion by the time employees of a company arrived to retrieve them.
The letter also alleges that witnesses reported seeing people jumping on live birds, throwing them against the side of a truck and striking their heads against cages, among other things. PETA alleges that “540 turkeys evidently suffered and died at the scene, possibly of heat-related stress.”
Bushnell said he was aware of the accident but had not been informed of any allegations of animal cruelty until he received PETA’s letter at midday Tuesday. By the end of the afternoon, he said, he had received about 50 emails and one phone call from people across the country who apparently learned of the allegations through PETA and wrote urging him to investigate.
An “action alert” about the incident is posted on PETA’s website, www.peta.org.
“Unfortunately, I will not be able to personally speak with all the members of PETA (who wrote), but this has clearly touched a chord in the community that, like so many of us, love animals,” Bushnell said.
The wreck itself may have caused some turkeys to suffer, he said, adding that others “obviously suffered terribly” being trapped in the truck afterward. But Bushnell said he could not say that anyone violated the law by not releasing the birds, especially because doing so likely would have created a greater traffic hazard.
What he wants to determine through the investigation is if there is evidence of “provable, gratuitous cruelty to those turkeys for the sake of cruelty,” he said.
“I have asked the state police to speak to people who were there on the scene to find out whether anyone deliberately caused pain to the numerous turkeys that were involved,” he said.
“If the allegations, particularly the more lurid allegations, are borne out by evidence, we’ll give very, very serious thought to instituting charges,” he added.
Among those on the scene on U.S. 220 on Thursday, in addition to the state police, were Henry County animal control officers and several representatives of the Martinsville-Henry County SPCA, according to Bushnell and news media reports.
The state police said last week in a news release that the driver of the 1998 Peterbilt tractor-trailer, Lawrence Douglas Martin, 45, of Lumberton, N.C., was charged with reckless driving-failing to maintain control in connection with the accident. Martin was not injured in the wreck, according to state police reports at the time.