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Wyatt Colvin said he was overcome with guilt even before he and his cousin Josh dumped a dead cow in a Culpeper County Administration Building parking lot on the night of Jan. 16.
"I thought we were going to get caught before we got there," the 21-year-old Viewtown farmer said yesterday.
They didn't. If fact, no one even noticed the carcass in the back of their pickup truck.
"I drove right up in the middle of town, even stopped at a stoplight, with that old cow's head hanging down on the back bumper," said 30-year-old Josh Colvin.
The Colvin boys walked into Sheriff Lee Hart's office yesterday afternoon and confessed to the unusual crime. Each was charged with improperly disposing of a dead animal, a Class IV misdemeanor that's punishable by a maximum $250 fine.
At an impromptu news conference last night beside a torn-down John Deere tractor in the family farm shop, Wyatt and Josh Colvin had high praise for Hart, who persuaded them to come clean, but blasted Culpeper County Animal Control for its initial handling of the matter.
"Hart handled this business the old-fashioned way," said Wyatt Colvin. "He personally came out and talked to us and was very nice. I have nothing but the highest respect for him and his deputies."
But Josh Colvin was not so complimentary of Animal Control.
"They made a threat to a juvenile [his niece], and that's what ticked us off," he said.
The matter began when Animal Control allegedly called the Colvin farm one day and told Wyatt Colvin's 17-year-old sister that a neighbor had complained that there was a dead cow in the Thornton River--which runs through the property--and that Joe Colvin, Wyatt's father and Josh's uncle, "would be charged" unless it was removed.
The Colvins say they stopped their farm work and walked up the 40-foot-wide stream until they found the animal, which they contend was not theirs.
They waded into the chest-high frigid water, hooked a line to the sand-covered carcass, pulled it ashore and buried it.
Then, infuriated because Animal Control had threatened legal action unless they removed a dead cow that wasn't theirs, they sent the county a bill for $700 for inconvenience and actual costs.
On the morning of the cow drop-off, Josh Colvin said he got a reply in the mail from County Administrator Frank Bossio.
In that letter, dated Jan. 13, Bossio, although he defended the Animal Control employee, confirmed the initial call and offered Colvin an apology if the county officer had offended the farmer.
But he was adamant that the county would pay only $75 for removal and burial of the carcass.
"Right then, I decided what I was going to do," said Josh Colvin, who admitted to being the brains of the dead-cow outfit.
So, that night with his Uncle Joe in Pennsylvania and the rest of his family asleep, he and Wyatt dug up the dead cow, loaded it onto a truck and made their midnight delivery.
"I figured it was the best way to get our message across," he said.
The two young men--neither of whom has been in any kind of trouble before--said they rode back by the parking lot out of curiosity after they washed their truck. They even came to town the next day and drove by several times to see if the carcass was still there. It was.
It was not until Monday morning that Deputy Clerk Peggy Crane, coming to work for a few minutes on a holiday, discovered the cow and reported the incident.
Sheriff's Office investigators had a pretty good idea who was behind the dead-cow caper, but had no evidence. No one had seen the middle-of-the-night drop-off.
The bovine carcass, which Hart said had been dead about two weeks, was sent to a fertilizer-rendering plant the morning it was discovered (at a cost of $50 to the county).
It was then that Hart personally intervened and talked to the family. After discussing their plight with an attorney, the Colvin boys decided to come forward, in part to protect Hart's image.
"I felt bad because the sheriff was getting a bad rap," said Josh Colvin. "Everyone thinks Animal Control is under the Sheriff's Department but it's not. It was not Hart's fault, it was Animal Control's fault."
Hart said he also wanted to make it clear that the county administrator and the Board of Supervisors, not his office, are in charge of Animal Control.
The Colvin boys are scheduled to appear Feb. 5 in General District Court, where they are expected to plead guilty.
Meanwhile, Josh still wants his burial money from the county--even if the cow was exhumed.
"I'm going to revise my bill down to $300," said Josh Colvin, who added that he plans to go before the Board of Supervisors with his Animal Control complaints.
Having become folk heroes since their beef delivery, the boys admit the dead-cow caper had one drawback.
"The worse thing is we couldn't tell anybody," said Wyatt Colvin.
"They are fine people," Hart said of the two men.
To reach DONNIE JOHNSTON: DJohn40330@aol.com