Landowner says cows are starving

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2001

because he’s ‘landlocked’


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GOSHEN – Herbert and Myrtle Wingard fear that a slow court system, confusion over land laws and an unsympathetic pair of neighbors may be responsible for the deaths of 18 of their cows.

Mr. Wingard, a cattle farmer who has a pasture just off County Road 5, not far from Highway 29 going toward the Petrey community, claims he’s landlocked by his neighbors who threaten to have him arrested for trespassing if he uses their privately-owned roads to enter his property.

"We can’t get in to feed our cows," Mrs. Wingard said. "They’re starving to death and there’s nothing we can do about it."

Earlier this week, Mr. Wingard claims he entered the property to feed his cows and was issued a trespassing citation by the Pike County Sheriff’s Department on a complaint from a neighbor whose road they used to access the property.

Mrs. Wingard says the key source of their trouble came when Marlon Hamm, a Pike County resident, purchased property next to their land.

"For years and years, we would go down a road on the neighboring property to get to our cows," she said. "But now that Mr. Hamm bought the land, he won’t let us cross it. There’s only one other way in, and that landowner says the same thing – that he won’t let us cross his land. It’s not nearly as good of a road and it’s filled with holes and a steep incline that make it almost impossible to go down anyway."

According to the Wingards, Hamm had requested purchasing the hunting rights on their property after he bought neighboring land within the last two years.

"We said no because we had been leasing hunting rights to a group of folks out of Louisiana and they had been good," Mrs. Wingard said. "We figured we’d let them keep it."

The Wingards contend that Hamm began to refuse to allow them and the hunters who were leasing their property the right to cross his land over his privately-owned road.

Calls to Hamm were not returned Tuesday, though a person who answered at his home said, "There’s a lot more to this than that, but I’d rather that he (Mr. Hamm) told you."

The Wingards also say that Hamm is telling people that they can use the road owned by the other neighbor to access their land.

"He’s telling everybody that’s Mr. Wingard’s brother," Mrs. Wingard said. "It’s not. It’s a man who’s got the same last name, but who’s not even related. Not only are they not kin, they aren’t even of the same race."

The Wingards contend, though, that a failure to get their cows fed will result in the deaths of one or more of the animals.

"We’re worried about these cows," she said. "We went to feed them once in the last four weeks and a warrant was issued. We can’t even feed our cows and we think they’ll starve to death with conditions like they are."

The Wingards say relief isn’t in sight.

Though there are laws prohibiting land-locking people, there is a lot of confusion over how far those laws extend.

"That doesn’t necessarily mean that each person who owns land has the right to have a 30-foot-wide corridor that’s paved or gravel that goes to their land for their use," said Steve Hicks, county administrator. "This is a civil issue and the county really doesn’t have any authority to do anything about it. What I know about the law is limited, but experience has shown me that access to property doesn’t have to be easy or convenient. The only thing I know the laws do say is that people have a right to have access."

Hicks said he has heard of the issue, but that the Pike County Commission can’t become involved.

"This is something that will have to be settled in civil court," he said. "The only way we can take a road into public ownership is to take one that is up to county standards on the petition of the landowner who owns the property over which the road passes. That’s not what we’re facing in this particular situation, meaning there’s nothing we can do."

Currently the Wingards say the case is in civil court where they are waiting for word from their attorneys with Kettler and Kettler in Luverne.

"As we understand it, it’s in the hands of (Pike County Circuit) Judge (Gary) McAliley now," Mrs. Wingard said. "We don’t know when it will go to court."