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Udder distraction: Overturned cattle truck on I-75 has officers steering traffic 'till the cows come home'

By Ed Brock

Trucker Gary Saltsman was on his way home to Nashville, Tenn., on Interstate 75 when he saw a police officer chasing a cow down the side of the highway.

"I said get on the truck and we'll catch him," Saltsman said.

About one hour prior to that, at about 2:15 p.m. Friday, another trucker, 53-year-old David Lawrence with J.E.D. Trucking was transporting 115 young cows from Dublin to a farm in Reading, Kan., Clayton County Police Department Capt. Jeff Turner said. When Lawrence came onto the sharply curved exit ramp from I-75's northbound lanes onto eastbound Interstate 285 his rear wheels left the pavement.

"I guess that's when the cows started shifting around, forcing the truck to flip over," Turner said.

Lawrence's tractor-trailer went on its side. Around that time 19-year-old Randy Klaub of Forest Park and his friend, 24-year-old Mark Ensroth of Stockbridge, were passing by and decided to stop to help.

"As we were getting out three of them (cows) jumped out," Klaub said.

The cows at first ran out into traffic, but Klaub and Ensroth helped herd the three cows back into the grassy area near the ramp where they settled down until they were later retrieved. Traffic began backing up as police, fire and Georgia Department of Transportation crews began arriving.

It wasn't Klaub's first time dealing with livestock.

"I lived on a farm when I was 14," Klaub said. "But that was a long time ago."

As officers secured the scene they made plans for transferring the cows that were still in the truck into trailers, but they would have to wait some time before the trailers could arrive. Meanwhile rescue workers set up a fan to blow cool air into the trailer to bring some relief to the remaining cows.

Later they would find that 13 of the cows had died in the accident.

At one point some of the cows began nudging at the openings in the back of the trailer, and finally another cow broke free and ran toward the interstate where traffic was flowing once again.

That was the cow that Clayton County Police Department Officer Victor Massarelli and others were chasing when Saltsman offered Massarelli a ride.

Massarelli hopped on the running board of Saltsman's truck and Saltsman pulled up in front of the running cow. At the right moment Massarelli jumped onto the cow, grabbed him around the neck and "bulldogged" him to the ground on the shoulder of the interstate near the Aviation Boulevard bridge.

"I did say ?Yee-haw,'" Massarelli said. "And he said ?Eat more chicken.'"

Massarelli, Saltsman, paramedics and other police officers restrained the cow that was later hog-tied with some rope. More than an hour later Clayton County Animal Control Capt. Toni Tidwell managed to arrange the delivery of some xylazine horse tranquilizer that was then administered to the still struggling cow.

Tidwell then brought a flatbed tow truck around to carry the cow back to the scene of the accident.

"We're playing it by ear as we go," Tidwell said.

The cow was returned to the scene of the accident and later put on a trailer with the other cows, though it was still sedated. The cow wranglers on the scene said they thought the cow would survive.

The wranglers and emergency workers set up metal barricades around the rear of the truck and the smaller trailers that had been brought for the cows. Then the workers began pulling the trailer apart like a sardine can to free the cows.

Initially the cows seemed reluctant to leave the wrecked trailer. One seemed so badly injured that at first it couldn't move, but finally it staggered to its feet and managed to crawl into a new trailer.

Another cow stumbled out and stood blinking at onlookers as if looking for answers before going to the new trailer. Airplanes taking off from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport roared overhead.

Across the ramp the first three cows to escape from the wreck laid passively in the grass.

Spectators stopped to watch the action, but for Tommy Fry of St. Lucie County in Florida the accident was more than a minor inconvenience.

"I heard it on the radio," Fry said. "It's a shame, it really is."

Fry and two friends were riding their motorcycles to Missouri for the funeral of Fry's grandmother, who died during the hurricanes that rocked his part of the state in the past months. They had stopped to ask for directions around the accident so they could get back on track.

By 6 p.m. most of the cows had been loaded onto the new trailers, but the ramp was still closed. Traffic was moving on I-75.

Lawrence was released on a citation for failure to maintain his lane.