Amish Tragedy

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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

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