How many of these actions were illegal? Fewer than many people might think.
Trooper Josh Lewis, a spokesperson for the Colorado State Patrol who analyzed the footage at Westword's request, says that because there's no Colorado traffic law against transporting an unrestrained dog in the back of a truck (even a flatbed), the only clear-cut offenses involve the speed at which both the truck and the videographer's ride were traveling. Lewis maintains that the person behind the clip, whom we've agreed not to name, created risks not only by far exceeding the posted limit to record the dog's plight, but also because he chastised the driver in a way that could easily have spun even further out of control.
As for the videographer, he argues that even if the truck driver didn't commit a specific moving violation, he was guilty under Colorado statute of cruelty to animals. But that's a matter of debate, too.
The incident took place on the afternoon of Sunday, September 15, on I-76 just east of Brighton, and the rate at which the driver of the truck was traveling isn't in dispute. Early in the clip, the videographer pans down to show that the needle on his speedometer is pushing ninety as he accelerates to provide a better look at the dog's movements.
Here's the video:
Shortly after the scene above ended, the videographer dialed 911, but he characterizes the resulting exchange as thoroughly unsatisfying. "Basically, they told me, 'We'll decide whether or not to even talk to the guy,'" he recalls.
Around that time, the truck driver exited I-76 onto a county road leading to the Wild Country RV Park in Keenesburg, and the videographer followed him. The conversation that took place after they left their vehicles wasn't pretty.
""The only thing I said to him was, 'That's really reckless behavior and not legal because of animal cruelty,'" he recalls, "and he immediately responded by telling me so many F-words that I couldn't count them, and then said he was going to kill me."
The pair weren't nose to nose. According to the videographer, he made sure to keep some distance, and an actual barrier, between them. "This guy said, 'Come over the fence and say that to my face,'" he goes on. "It was a complete insane tirade."
Fortunately, no physical violence took place. Chief Tracey McCoy of the Lochbuie Police Department, which contracts with Keenesburg to provide law enforcement, says that by the time his officer arrived on the scene, peace had been restored and "the reporting party" was gone and hadn't left behind contact information.
Still, the sequence of events troubles the Colorado State Patrol's Lewis.
"The video is obviously very concerning for numerous reasons," he allows. "Certainly, one of the biggest is the dog itself, that has the potential to fall off. Colorado law, however, doesn't make that a crime. While it's entirely discouraged from happening, it is not actually a crime to have a dog in the back of a pickup truck, even a flatbed, and unrestrained."
Also unsettling, he goes on, "is the person who's driving 90 miles per hour while they're operating their phone and its video capabilities. There are no 90-mile-per-hour speed limits in the State of Colorado, and as much as we encourage people to reach out to us when they see these kinds of incidents, or potentially dangerous situations, please do not put yourself or anyone else at risk in order to capture pictures or videos. This is a situation where a couple of wrongs certainly don't make a right."
Lewis begs to differ. "I don't want this to be a blaming-the-victim situation, but we don't ever want anyone to put themselves in harm's way. We don't want to have a road-rage incident or something else where your safety could be put at risk. Never, ever put yourself in a situation where you could be harmed or others could be harmed."
The question of whether the scenario broke any regulations pertaining specifically to dogs rather than driving involves a different kind of judgment. The videographer cites the animal-cruelty section of the Colorado Revised Statutes, which reads in part: "A person commits cruelty to animals if he or she knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence...carries or confines in or upon any vehicles in a cruel or reckless manner."
The animal-cruelty statute in Massachusetts contains nearly identical language, and the measure entered the national consciousness during the 2008 and 2012 presidential races after a story surfaced about Republican candidate Mitt Romney driving for twelve hours with his dog Seamus in a car carrier mounted to the roof of his vehicle during a 1983 family vacation. Romney was never cited for animal cruelty in the case, but it became an odd opposition talking point in his campaigns.
The presence of dogs in the back of flatbed trucks is less likely to stir controversy in northern Colorado, no matter how fast the vehicles are traveling. Two sources with the Weld County Sheriff's Office note that such sights are extremely commonplace in northern Colorado, especially in the more rural areas; both considered the application of the animal-cruelty statute to such occurrences to fall into a "gray area." For his part, Lochbuie Police Chief McCoy says he's never heard of anyone being cited for a loose dog in the back of a truck over the course of his decades in law enforcement, though he can envision it happening if the dog fell off the back and was killed.
At the same time, McCoy admits that he found the video rather "alarming" because of how close the dog got to the edge of the flatbed — and the videographer emphasizes that a fall could have terrible repercussions for more than the animal. In his words, "I don't think the Colorado State Patrol would appreciate it if a dog flew off the back of a truck at 90 miles per hour and a family minivan swerved in a gut reaction and several people were killed."