Adams County shooting: ISP seeks witnesses to incident that killed rancher

Adams County area

A view of the area a couple of miles south of Jack Yantis' ranch.
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A view of the area a couple of miles south of Jack Yantis' ranch.

The area of U.S. 95 where a car struck a bull Sunday evening, starting a series of events that led to the death of the rancher who owned the bull, is open range, Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman said Tuesday.

Two Adams County deputies got into a confrontation with Jack Yantis, 62, of Council, after Yantis arrived at the crash scene six miles north of Council, carrying a rifle.

Few details have been released publicly about what happened, but investigators said the injured bull was charging at first-responders and passing vehicles and deputies were about to kill it. At some point after Yantis arrived, the two deputies and Yantis all fired their weapons. Yantis died at the scene; one deputy suffered a minor injury, according to Idaho State Police, which is investigating the shooting at Adams County’s request.

At Yantis’ home Tuesday, a man introducing himself as family member Rowdy Paradis said attorneys would release a statement soon on behalf of the family. He said he was 10 feet away when Yantis was shot.

“They took a family man from the dinner table and slaughtered him,” Paradis said.

Idaho State Police detectives are asking for anyone who may have been witness to events surrounding the shooting to contact them. The incident started at about 6:45 p.m. Traffic on the highway was stopped until about 7:45 p.m., and detectives think there were a number of motorists near the scene who may have information useful to their investigation.

Witnesses did not have to see the shooting to be helpful, ISP said. Anyone with information should call 208-884-7110.

The driver and passenger of the Subaru station wagon that hit the bull had to be extricated from the vehicle and were flown to a Boise hospital for treatment. Their names and conditions have not been released.

The two deputies’ names have not been released, either, and they have been placed on paid administrative leave. The rancher’s wife, Donna Yantis, reportedly suffered a heart attack immediately after the incident. She was taken to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, where a hospital spokesman said she was in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.

‘Community in mourning’

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, who represented Adams County in the Idaho House of Representatives for 20 years, including three terms as speaker, described Yantis as a typical cattle rancher.

“He loved the outdoors and loved his animals,” Denney said. “I know the whole community is in mourning.”

Sigurd Sanders, 72, has known Yantis for 25 years. “[He’s] one of the nicest men up in this county,” Sanders said.

Jack was a fine gentleman.

Sigurd Sanders, one of Jack Yantis’ neighbors.

Yantis let Sanders and his girlfriend hunt turkey on his vast property. They often crossed paths in the woods. “We’d be out looking for turkeys, and he’d be out looking for cattle,” said Linda Miranda, Sanders’ girlfriend.

Livestock on the road

In open range, it’s not uncommon for horses or cows to wander onto the road, Zollman said. He wasn’t aware of any calls about livestock on the highway before Sunday’s crash.

“This is not the first of [Yantis’] animals to be hit by a car,” Zollman said.

Upon hearing of livestock in the road, the Sheriff’s Office will notify the rancher involved, and that rancher goes out to take care of the matter, Zollman said. Sometimes, deputies are able to move the animals off a road themselves.

“They’re livestock smart,” said Zollman, a 37-year-old from Enterprise, Ore., who was elected Adams County sheriff in 2012. “They don’t have a problem catching a horse, putting a rope around its neck and putting it in an open gate.”

The Sheriff’s Office usually allows ranchers to decide whether to put down an injured animal.

Zollman said he did not know Yantis personally, nor did the deputies involved in the shooting, though they knew him as a member of the small community.

“I knew of him. I could recognize him and tell you what truck him and his wife drove,” Zollman said. The department hadn’t had any previous problems with Yantis, Zollman said.

Help from other agencies

The Adams County Sheriff’s Office has 10 officers, including the sheriff, undersheriff, seven road deputies and a resident deputy in Hells Canyon.

Other than the two deputies on administrative leave, another deputy is away finishing training at the Idaho POST Academy. Idaho State Police is helping the small department this week and others have offered help, including the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

“We’ve got other agencies stepping in to assist. The Boise Police Department chief offered officers if we needed. The undersheriff and myself covered calls yesterday,” Zollman said.

Adams County covers more than 5,000 square miles and has a population of about 3,800. The town of Council has 800 residents. Tuesday was the last day of elk season in the area and there were triple the number of people in town because of the influx of hunters, Zollman said.

Even when it’s not hunting season, it’s not uncommon for ranchers and other residents to have guns in their trucks.

“We assume everyone has a gun in their car at all times,” Zollman said. “We deal with firearms daily. These officers are very aware of that — that [Yantis] had a gun ... [is] not uncommon. That’s just common practice.”

The only previous officer-involved shooting in the county that Zollman is aware of occurred in New Meadows in the 1990s and involved an Idaho State Police trooper.

“I’ve talked to people who have been here a long time, and they say this has never happened before,” said Zollman, who has lived in Council since 2000.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

John Sowell and Kristin Rodine contributed.

What is ‘open range’?

It’s a designation for areas where cattle can roam and graze freely, usually marked with signs warning drivers to watch for their presence.

It also affects who is usually liable for crashes involving drivers and livestock. From Idaho Code 25-2118: “No person owning, or controlling the possession of, any domestic animal running on open range, shall have the duty to keep such animal off any highway on such range, and shall not be liable for damage to any vehicle or for injury to any person riding therein, caused by a collision between the vehicle and the animal. ‘Open range’ means all uninclosed lands outside of cities, villages and herd districts, upon which cattle by custom, license, lease, or permit, are grazed or permitted to roam.”