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No charges filed in handling of turkeys after wreck

Friday, November 16, 2012

No charges will be filed in connection with the treatment of turkeys after a truck hauling about 600 turkeys overturned in Ridgeway last June, according to Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell.

Bushnell made his decision after reviewing the report of a Virginia State Police investigation into the incident, he wrote to the state police.

He had asked for the investigation of allegations of mistreatment after he received a letter about the incident from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a national animal rights organization.

Bushnell’s letter to the State Police reviewed facts determined by the investigation. It states that around 6:50 a.m. June 14, the tractor-trailer belonging to Gerald Clontz Trucking was hauling hundreds of caged turkeys from Circle S Ranch in southern North Carolina to a slaughterhouse in Harrisonburg when it ran off U.S. 220 south of Martinsville. The tractor trailer overturned.

Many turkeys were killed or hurt in the crash, and it took about five hours for Circle S Ranch to get a replacement tractor trailer and a crew to the accident scene to transfer the surviving turkeys from the wreckage to continue the trip to the slaughterhouse, the investigation showed, according to Bushnell. He added that considering the distance and necessary arrangements, the time lapse did not seem unreasonable.

During this time, the surviving turkeys, most of which remained caged on the overturned tractor-trailer, suffered as the temperature rose, Bushnell wrote.

State troopers responded to the scene along with members of the Ridgeway Volunteer Fire Department and two Henry County Animal Control Officers, Bushnell wrote. SPCA volunteers and employees also responded to do what they could for the surviving turkeys until the replacement trailer arrived around noon, he added.

The animal control offers and SPCA began moving the turkeys from the wreck to the cages, and the crew of about 10 men and a supervisor got there shortly thereafter and took over the job, he wrote.

“In the opinion of the troopers, the animal control officers and the Ridgeway fire chief, the crew accomplished this job as best they could under the circumstances and engaged in no acts of deliberate cruelty,” Bushnell wrote.

“In the opinion of the SPCA employees and volunteers, the crew exhibited a callous attitude toward both the turkeys and the SPCA and should have handled the turkeys with individual care rather than tossing them into the crates on the tractor trailer bound for the slaughterhouse. The SPCA folks were particularly concerned that the process of tossing the turkeys from the wreckage and into the cages and from one member of the crew to another resulted in a number of the turkeys falling to the ground,” he added.

PETA claimed 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.

Bushnell wrote that troopers and other first responders at the scene “squarely refute these allegations and point out that, given the mass of dead and surviving turkeys, it would have been very difficult to expeditiously transfer the turkeys without occasionally someone inadvertently stepping on a live turkey or dropping a turkey or missing the mark when tossing a turkey into a crate.”

“It is unquestioned that the crew could have transferred the turkeys with greater tenderness. However, the question is not whether the crew handled the turkeys as gently as possible but whether there is evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the crew or any individual member thereof engaged in criminal animal cruelty,” Bushnell added.

He added that television video of the incident showed nothing that looked like deliberate cruelty.

“As it is clear that no one could be successfully prosecuted for animal cruelty, there is no need for further investigation,” Bushnell added.


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