SALEM, Ohio – A Wayne County municipal court judge has thrown out criminal charges against a custom farming outfit in the county.
Orrson Custom Farming, a partnership between Jim Orr and his son, Jon, was blamed for causing three automobile accidents in early November after mud tracked onto the roadway by their silage harvest equipment created a road hazard.
The Orrs can still face civil penalties. Accident victims were unavailable for comment.
Accidents. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol reports, the three accidents happened Nov. 5, 2003, on Warwick Road in Chippewa Township.
All three accidents occurred between 6:30 a.m. and 6:40 a.m.
One report indicates “the roadway was completely covered with mud and dirt from farm machinery traveling from field to field” Nov. 3. Rainy weather could have played a role in creating slick conditions.
Two trucks and a car ended up in the ditch, and one truck was totaled, according to patrol reports.
The charges. The Orrs were charged with placing mud on the roadway in accordance with Ohio Revised Code 5589.10.
That statute says “no person shall dig up, remove, excavate, or place any earth or mud upon any portion of any public highway or build a fence upon the same without authority to do so. …”
What happened. Stoll Farms, a dairy operation, had contracted Orrson to chop and deliver silage Nov. 3, according to Orr.
The county sheriff told the Orrs to keep the roadway scraped and clean, and a farm employee had done that.
In pre-trial hearings, that farm employee said road conditions had worsened since the Orrs left the site two days earlier, according to reports in The Daily Record.
Stumped. “We’re stumped on the whole thing,” Jon Orr admitted.
“The judge’s interpretation was obviously correct. [The statute] was written in 1953. It’s very vague, has no history and has never been used,” he said.
“There’s no degree in the law. Mud is either on the road or it’s not and how much is too much?
“That means any time a car comes off a dirt road onto a highway, they’re always guilty. I don’t think this is what was meant,” Orr said.
A first. “This is the first case like this I’ve ever heard of, and the first where the farmer was charged criminally” said Larry Gearhardt, director of local affairs for the Ohio Farm Bureau.
The Farm Bureau took an interest in the charges because of the potential outcome’s effect on agriculture statewide.
Gearhardt and Jon Orr agreed that they think the intent of the statute was misinterpreted.
“It’s my feeling this was meant for construction along a highway,” Gearhardt said, noting the farm operation could still face civil charges.
“I think the court made the right decision,” Gearhardt said.
Clean up. Gearhardt reminds farmers to keep roadways clean of mud, manure or other materials.
“It is imperative to keep mud off the road and be cognizant of the liability issues” related to accidents, he said.
“Do the best you can to keep everything scraped and cleaned up. It’s part of a good good-neighbor policy,” he said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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