It was a true story that resonated deeply within the agricultural community of the Mountain West and beyond: On the night of November 1, 2015, a vehicle hit a bull belonging to 62-year-old Idaho rancher Jack Yantis on the highway just down the lane from Jack’s ranch house. As is common practice in that part of Idaho, dispatch called and summoned Jack to the scene to euthanize the bull. When Jack arrived with rifle in hand to put the bull out of its misery, there was a short altercation between Jack and two county deputies that ended with Jack dead of 12 gunshot wounds. His wife and nephew witnessed the killing. Investigators could never prove that Jack fired his gun a single time.
Leesa Zalesky, a savvy investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the ag news industry, covered the story of Jack’s killing in an award-winning series that appeared in print in Montana’s Western Ag Reporter. But her drive to uncover the truth wouldn’t let her stop there. Here was a story of small-town politics and the humanness of humans and, ultimately, the killing of a good old guy which should have been prevented. Leesa knew the story deserved to be told, in its entirety, to a wider audience. She took the research she’d already compiled and dug in to the very bottom of the case; I would suspect she knows the case better than almost anybody by now. The end result was Leesa’s first published book:
The story is not an easy read but it’s more than worthwhile. Leesa has basically collected all the evidence, including word-for-word interviews with the deputies responsible for Jack’s death, condensed it and organized it. She brings the reader along as she delves into the investigation, revealing layer after layer of questions.
Along the way she lets the facts do their own accusing: the county sheriff’s questionable small-town hiring practices; EMTs that didn’t provide the level of care required of such an emergency; the county’s general lack of professionalism in handling the case; the marred work histories of both deputies.
Simply by gathering all the information into one place, Leesa has done a great favor for anyone who’s followed the case from its beginning. For readers who delve into the pages with no prior knowledge of the killing of Jack Yantis, Leesa provides the opportunity to sit on the jury (which never materialized in real life), to hear the facts, and to decide for themselves.
I learned a lot reading this book, thanks to Leesa’s painstaking attention to the likelihood that most readers don’t completely understand our country’s legal system. Leesa unravels the mystery, explaining (right or wrong) why the case took many of the turns it took. Her attention to the details, her thirst for truth, and her dogged determination to bring both into the public light are what make Leesa such a great writer, and I would like to congratulate her on her first published book.
You can read my 2017 interview with Leesa here: 20 questions with… The best ag journalist. Ever.
To order a copy of “Milepost 142: The Killing of Jack Yantis,” send $22 (check or money order; includes shipping) to JMH Group, PO Box 183, Wahoo NE 68066. To order with a credit card, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Tami Blake