All the cows were gone from Edward Munson’s Readfield farm early Thursday morning, just days after a car hit a loose cow on the road and reignited public safety concerns about the bovines wandering from their pasture.

Neighbors reported seeing the cows hauled off by several trucks, but it was unclear where the animals were taken or why. The cows have previously vanished from the farm and later reappeared, neighbors said, leading them to believe the owner is moving the animals around.

The move followed a crash late Saturday night in which a car collided with a cow on Route 17. The town of Readfield has taken Munson to court several times over cows frequently escaping from the farm and wandering Route 17. None of the three people in the car were hurt.

But neighbors and town officials are afraid there will be another accident, and the next victims won’t be as lucky.

“The big news for us is that the cattle apparently have been removed,” Readfield Town Manager Stefan Pakulski said Thursday. “That makes the public much safer when traveling that stretch of Route 17. All the neighbors in that area probably will also be relieved that cattle no longer will be entering their properties.”

Munson, of Winthrop, answered his cellphone on Thursday but hung up when a Kennebec Journal reporter identified herself.

The number of beef cattle on Munson’s farm has ranged from 30 to 80 over the past year or so, according to town officials. Records at the Readfield Town Office show Munson owns two contiguous parcels of land in the town, 41.4 acres fronting Main Street, which is Route 17, and 28 acres on Stanley Road.

The state animal welfare agency was asked to step in to address the problem of Munson’s cows in the road in 2012 and agreed to watch the situation and send a letter to Munson and the town saying that Munson had lost his right-to-farm protection because of the reported incidents. At that time, Munson said it was the same one or two cows always escaping, even though the town’s animal control officer said otherwise.

In an interview then, Munson said that he did not care if more animals escaped.

“I’d like to see that whole herd get out. That would tickle me. Then they’d have something (to complain about),” he said.

On Thursday, Courtney Marchelletta, spokeswoman for the Maine Animal Welfare Program, a division of the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the department would not comment on the case and referred all inquiries to the town.

Pakulski said the town’s attorney had talked with Munson’s attorney about Saturday’s crash. “We would, of course, be trying to pursue what we can according to the animal trespass law,” he said.

Records kept by Karen Peterson, Readfield’s animal control officer, show that cows were reported escaping from Munson’s pasture six times in the past month.

In the crash late Saturday night,the cow involved ran into Route 17 from Munson’s farm, investigators said.

On Tuesday, Munson said he was pleased that no one was injured in the crash, which killed the beef cow. He would not comment further.

The accident sparked renewed public safety concerns on the part of the town over the animals wandering into the state route.

The town has taken Munson to court several times over the loose cows. The most recent lawsuit was settled in September when Munson agreed to pay the town $2,000 in fines for violating animal trespass laws and $500 to recompense the town for the animal control officer’s time helping to round up the animals.

Munson’s attorney in that lawsuit case, J. Mitchell Slick of Winthrop, did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.

On a rainy night in October 2009, a water buffalo belonging to Munson was struck by a car, recalled Ron Merrifield, 81, who was Readfield’s animal control officer at the time.

“Everybody knew it was going to happen, and it’s going to happen again and somebody’s going to get killed,” Merrifield said Thursday.

Merrifield, who’s retired, spent 31 years as Wayne’s animal control officer for Wayne, four of those years also for Readfield and six years also for Fayette.

“He’s trying to feed too many cattle for the pasture,” Merrifield said. “This is why animal welfare should come in on it.”

Munson previously said the pasture’s fencing was in poor condition when he bought the property and said he spent $8,000 in repairs through 2012.

The October 2009 water buffalo crash on Route 17, just across from the farm gate, left Mel Morrison, of Augusta, with minor facial injuries and destroyed the car he was driving, which belonged to John Blouin’s auto dealership.

“I was returning to Augusta from Maranacook high school about 8 at night doing about 45 mph, the posted speed limit,” Morrison said Thursday. “I came around a hill on a curve and saw these two beady eyes in the middle of the road. Of course, I couldn’t do anything.”

Blouin, who lives in Readfield and drives past the farm daily, said he hopes something can be done about the escaping animals “before a tragedy occurs.” Blouin said Munson’s cows have been relocated previously from the Route 17 farm and returned back there just as abruptly.

“It’s a frightening experience. The story should be no one’s been killed yet,” Blouin said. “I can’t see how the situation can continue when there’s been two totaled cars and many mishaps.”

 

Betty Adams — 621-5631 |

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Twitter: @betadams