Survivors of crash with Yantis bull seek change in open range laws
Two gashes on the top of her head were stapled. Deep wounds on her forehead and face were stitched. Her left eye was temporarily paralyzed by nerve damage, and the iris settled into an awkward and constant gaze from the lower right corner of the socket.
Doris “Dori” Garner, who was encased in neck and full upper-body braces for months while her broken bones healed, recalls her horror when she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror.
“I looked like Frankenstein’s bride,” said Garner, a tiny 47-year-old woman who had a 2,500-pound bull land on top of her in a vehicle-livestock collision last November on U.S. 95 in Adams County. “It was scary to look at myself.”
The injuries that she and her husband, William “Jack” Garner, now 54, suffered weren’t just cosmetic. The Nampa newlyweds — married just two months before the crash — suffered life-threatening head trauma and other critical injuries.
It was not until after she was released from the hospital a month later that Dori Garner heard the full story about the tragic aftermath of the crash: The bull’s owner, Jack Yantis, had been shot to death by county deputies at the crash scene. State and federal prosecutors announced in late July that they found insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.
The Garners’ broken bodies have healed over the past nine months, though they do have lingering physical and emotional pain. They have worked hard to regain their health and resume favorite hobbies, including dancing in the living room.
Jack Garner does not want to speak publicly, but Dori Garner told the Statesman that she plans to become an advocate for changing Idaho’s open range laws, which allow livestock to roam freely, even in areas with high-speed traffic on state and federal highways.
“I can’t let what happened to Mr. Yantis stop me from standing up for what I believe is right,” she said. “I have to speak out about the dangers of open range. If ranchers take offense, I can’t help that. Laws need to be changed and added to keep travelers safer.”
In Idaho’s open range areas, long-standing tradition, eventually written into law, absolves livestock owners from liability when a driver hits livestock. As the law stands, the Garners could be liable not only for their injuries and damage to their vehicle, but for the replacement of the bull.
The Idaho Transportation Department crash report estimated the animal’s value at $4,000, though breeding bulls typically sell for $5,000 to $10,000, according to Treasure Valley Livestock Auction. The Garners have not heard from the Yantis family or anyone representing them.
The collision happened about 6:45 p.m. Nov. 1, right in front of the Yantis ranch along the highway north of Council.
That night, the Garners were traveling back to Nampa from Dori’s childhood hometown of LaCrosse, Wash. It is about a six-hour drive, and they opted to take a route they don’t normally take — U.S. 95 — so they could stop to see Dori’s son in Lewiston.
Dori and Jack were both previously married. They have eight children, ages 16 to 26, between them. The couple tied the knot in LaCrosse last September.
Jack was at the wheel of their 1994 Subaru Legacy wagon when it collided with the bull. Dori does not remember anything that occurred during the hour leading up to the crash.
“The last thing I remember was stopping at a rest area outside of Riggins,” she said.
The conditions that night were dry and clear, according to the ITD crash report. It was dark. There are no lights in the area.
The Garners were traveling downhill on a straightaway before the collision, the crash report says, but Jack Garner told his wife that he believes a curve impeded his view of the bull.
They saw the black Gelbvieh standing in the southbound lane of the two-lane highway a split-second before hitting it. The bull hit the center front bumper, the crash report shows. It flattened the hood and smashed into the windshield and roof.
When Jack came to, he was not sure that Dori was alive, she said. He was in an ambulance when he heard her screaming about pain in her foot. Strangely, that was one of the few parts of her body where doctors could find no injury.
Everybody who was there that night, everybody’s life changed in some way.
Dori Garner, passenger in car that struck Jack Yantis’ bull
The couple feel lucky they were not riding in their two-seat Mazda Miata. That was largely because they were traveling with their dog, a Bichon Frise-Maltese mix named Chloe. Riding in a kennel in the back of the Subaru, the year-old pup was unharmed.
Dori and Jack suffered bleeding concussions. An air ambulance took them to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
Dori Garner’s other injuries included a broken bone in her neck and two in her back. Surgery was deemed too risky, so she had to wear a neck brace and stay as still as possible while her bones healed over three months. The upper-body brace came off only when she was lying flat on the bed. Jack was treated for a dislocated collar bone.
“He was in as much pain as I was with my broken bones,” said Dori, who had to be extricated from the crushed Subaru. Jack collapsed outside the car as he tried to walk around to the other side to help her.
“He’s very emotional when he talks about it, and he doesn’t like to talk about it,” Dori Garner said. “The emotions of that night are still very strong, and they’re still very painful for him.”
The Garners have tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and more to come. They were insured, though Dori Garner said a subsequent change in Jack’s employment status as a respiratory therapist left them unable to afford insurance for a month before he returned to full-time status.
This is not the way they envisioned beginning their lives together, but they say they have become closer through it all.
Dori Garner expects to have two more surgeries. One would help improve the alignment of the eye affected by nerve damage; she has regained the ability to move that eye, though it has double vision, and she wears corrective glasses so she can drive.
Jack was able to get back to work as a respiratory therapist in February, but Dori lost her job as a family assistant — a nanny with extra responsibilities — and will be looking for a new job soon.
ADVOCATING LAW CHANGE
Dori Garner said they are so grateful to those who helped at the crash scene, from the paramedics to the deputies and others.
“I want to go back there and thank people,” Dori Garner said. “They saved our lives and took care of us. I’ve been so busy concentrating on my recovery that I haven’t got that far yet.”
She also expressed sympathy for Donna Yantis, Jack’s widow.
Dori Garner said she is close to being ready to go out and talk to lawmakers about changing open range laws. She grew up in cattle country and knows that it is not possible to keep livestock inside fences.
Idaho Transportation Department data show there were 300 crashes involving domestic animals, including livestock, across Idaho in 2014. Two crashes were fatal, including one in which an Emmett woman struck a horse on Idaho 16. That occurred in an area that is closed range.
“I know there’s always a possibility that an animal is going to find a way out, or push down a fence. That happens,” Garner said.
She wants to do away with open range close to highways and high-speed traffic, and/or to lower speed limits in those areas, “to minimize the risk of someone getting injured or losing their life.”
“I feel like (livestock in the roadway) should not be a common thing,” she said. “It should be a rarity.”