Bear Wallow Ranch settles wrongful death lawsuit
Garfield County correspondent
DENVER ” The Bear Wallow Ranch settled a wrongful death lawsuit last week after an illegal immigrant accidentally shot a Qwest executive who was hunting turkey near New Castle in 2005.
Bill Keating, an attorney representing the deceased man’s family, said the amount of the settlement is confidential.
Jeff Garrett, 37, of Aurora, was a state lobbyist for Qwest when he was shot on May 14, 2005, while hiding in the brush and calling for turkey in the East Elk Creek area near New Castle. Authorities believe Garrett was mistaken for a turkey and was shot by Oscar Hoyos DeLaCruz, an employee of the ranch.
After an investigation led by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, DeLaCruz was arrested in June 2006 in Mexico and later sentenced to three years in prison in Mexico for second-degree manslaughter. But he appealed the sentence and received three years in a work-release program.
Garrett’s wife and children filed the wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 2006. It names the Bear Wallow Ranch, operated by Land West Ventures Inc. of Georgia. The ranch’s employees, DeLaCruz and Juan Salido Talavera, were also named as defendants. Among the claims were that the ranch unlawfully hired DeLaCruz, an illegal immigrant, and gave him access to the rifle he used to shoot Garrett.
The complaint says Talavera, who was here legally, knew that DeLaCruz was here illegally and using a false identity, but he recommended the company hire him.
“DeLaCruz should not have been hired because he was illegal,” Keating said. “If they’d done any reasonable background check they would have found out that he wasn’t who he claimed he was and wouldn’t have hired him.”
He added that Talavera lives with DeLaCruz’s mother when he’s in Mexico.
The two ranch hands were repairing a fence on the morning of the shooting when they heard the turkey calls. DeLaCruz didn’t have experience with guns and “fired blindly” into the brush with a .22-caliber rifle without seeing his target and hit Garrett, the complaint says.
The complaint says DeLaCruz couldn’t legally possess a gun since he’s an illegal immigrant and didn’t have a hunting license. DeLaCruz and Talavera allegedly fled the scene without helping Garrett or calling authorities. The shot wasn’t immediately fatal and Garrett died because he didn’t quickly receive medical attention, the complaint says.
Garrett’s two hunting partners notified authorities that he failed to meet them at the end of the day as planned, and the body was found by Garfield County Search and Rescue.
DeLaCruz left the U.S. and returned to Mexico. Talavera helped DeLaCruz escape and cover up his involvement in the shooting, the complaint says.
Land West Ventures knew DeLaCruz had access to the rifle and fled the scene but didn’t report the information to police for several weeks, the plaintiffs say. Law enforcement had publicly asked for information about the shooting.
Efforts to reach Garrett’s wife, attorneys representing the Bear Wallow Ranch, and ranch employees were unsuccessful.
Keating said all of the claims in the complaint were factors that led to Garrett’s wrongful death, including that the shooting happened on the ranch’s property and during working hours.
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