Cow with head wound breaks man’s leg

David Briggs
RURAL PERILS: Petaluma resident Javier Rodriguez is unable to work after a cow, half-sedated and with a wound to the head, knocked him down and broke his leg on a Point Reyes Station ranch last week. The cow’s owner believes the animal had been shot.

Last Wednesday ended unlike most others at the Stanley Martinelli Ranch, just north of Point Reyes Station. As the ranch’s manager, Rodney Martinelli, tells it, a cow with a festering bullet wound to the head leapt a corral fence and led him and two friends on an hours-long chase that ended with the cow’s death, and one man’s broken leg. “Each cow we lose is tough,” said Mr. Martinelli, who manages 602 acres of his late father’s beef ranch. “You don’t want to lose them because someone shot them.”

Although Mr. Martinelli is certain the six-year-old cow had been grazed by close-range shotgun fire, Deputy Sheriff Jerod Kansanback, who responded to two separate 911 calls that day, is not. “At this point, we can’t validate it or un-validate it,” said Deputy Kansanback, who noted that neither powder nor pellets had been found. “But we’ve investigated it like any other case.” The night before, Mr. Martinelli noticed that the cow was bleeding badly from the right side of her face. He had brought her into a holding pen for a routine vaccine roundup with about 30 other cows, and it was too dark to see what exactly had happened. The next day, he got a closer look.

“I could see a hole clean through from the cheek to the eye socket,” Mr. Martinelli said. The hole was as wide as a quarter, and he immediately suspected a bullet.

He prodded the wound with his finger, which caused the cow to thrash around in the pen. It “went goofy,” Mr. Martinelli said, and its motions tore off a long slab of skin that was hanging loosely 

on her face.“It was about three inches, peeled off the skull,” he said.

Worried that the wound might become infected, Mr. Martinelli lured the 1,300-pound cow into a trailer and drove to the front of his property, where he locked it in the main corral and called Sonoma Marin Veterinary Service. When the vet arrived, Mr. Martinelli secured the cow to the corner of the corral by a nose tong.

After giving the cow a sedative, the vet removed the nose tongs to scrub its mangled face, Mr. Martinelli said. It was then the vet told him the wound was a week old.

“That cow was out there for a week, just bleeding,” he said. Minutes later, as the vet was treating its wounds, the cow woke up, and bounded over the corral’s barbed-wire fence. Mr. Martinelli hopped on a four-wheeler and chased it over a large swath of his pasture; still in half-sedated, the cow lumbered across several ranges, sometimes having to hop fences, for two hours before Mr. Martinelli called it quits.

But two of Mr. Martinelli’s friends, who had been eating lunch in a stable, resumed the chase, and soon lassoed the cow on a hill just off the ranch’s main dirt road. One of the men, Javier Rodriguez, tried to tie the rope to a tree to restrain it, but it twisted around the tree, knocked him down and broke his leg. Exhausted from the chase and strangling on the lasso noose, the cow had a heart attack and died.“I told [my friends] to just let her go,” Mr. Martinelli said. “I told them she’d get tired and to just let her go, but they went after her.” 

Paramedics rushed Mr. Rodriguez to Petaluma Valley Hospital, where doctors set his leg and released him two days later. A construction worker from Petaluma, Mr. Rodriguez will be unable to work for months while his leg heals; meanwhile, he will have to find a way to support his three children, ages 2, 4 and 7, and his wife, Esperanza. “It’s going to be tough,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I hope I can get help from whoever helps.”

Mr. Martinelli, too, is unsure how he will recoup his loss. A cow of that size and her calf, he said, has a market value of $3,500, and will eventually need to be replaced. (Luckily, the cow had given birth in August and her calf will be on the truck when the year’s beef ships out in the spring.)

When he does replace her, he will not be purchasing a similar breed. The cow was a Brahman-Angus cross from Oregon, the only of its breed out of 70 cows on Mr. Martinelli’s ranch, and he believes it was the shotgun spray to the face—combined with the Brahman blood—that turned it “goofy.”

“Brahmans are nuts,” he said. “That was the only Brahman cross here, and that’ll be the last.”

Although the cow endured multiple traumas that day, its official cause of death was a heart attack brought on by the sedative and subsequent chase, according to the deputy’s report. The vet’s office declined to comment on the case.

Sheriff’s deputies increased patrols around the area for a week, but found no other animals injured and turned up no suspicious people. With no further leads, the Sheriff’s Office will hand over its report to the Novato Humane Society.

“That was a bullet hole I saw,” said Mr. Martinelli. “She wasn’t goofy until someone shot her.”


You can donate to Mr. Rodriguez’s family through a Wells Fargo account for his wife, Esparanza M. Hurtado, #6309023718.