BELLEVUE, Iowa — A 60-year-old woman died and four other people were critically injured Sunday morning when two horses plowed into spectators at a holiday parade in this Mississippi River town.
The incident happened about 11:15 a.m. when two horses pulling a buggy bolted from the street and into a crowd lined along Riverview Street to watch the Heritage Day parade.
Fire Chief Chris Roling said in addition to the four people critically injured, five were seriously hurt and 14 received minor injuries. Many of the people injured are children, Roling said, but he didn’t know the extent of their injuries.
The Bellevue Police Department is not releasing the name of the deceased woman, pending notification of her family.
“It’s something I will never forget,” witness Peggy Thoms of Bellevue said.
She said the accident happened so quickly, it was hard to believe.
“I saw the woman on the buggy fly through the air and the buggy hit a pole and sheared it off,” Thoms said.
The buggy is owned by Mardell Steines of Spragueville. Sheriff Russ Kettmann said Steines’ wife, Janice, was the passenger who was thrown from the buggy.
She was taken to a Dubuque hospital and airlifted to University Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City with life-threatening injuries.
The victims were as young as 2 years old and suffered injuries ranging from multiple fractures to collapsed lungs and bruises and abrasions., said Lyn Medinger, county emergency management director.
“The mood is shock and disbelief,” Bellevue Mayor Virgil Murray said. “We’ve had this parade forever. We’ve had horses in the parade forever.”
The parade is a decades-long tradition in the Jackson County town of 2,300, Murray said, and often includes tractors and bands.
Sandie Crilly, 46, of Willow Springs, Ill., said she was collecting Tootsie Rolls from the street with her 8-year-old son, 12-year-old niece and 2-year-old granddaughter when the horses ran toward them about halfway through the parade.
Someone yelled to get out of the way, she said.
“I could see it was two horses,” Crilly said. “I could see they were running at full speed and they were harnessed together and I knew we were going to most certainly get hit. And as soon as it happened, everybody was crying and screaming.”
Crilly, who was visiting her parents in Bellevue, said someone pulled her granddaughter to safety, but her niece sustained a broken left wrist and had two front teeth knocked out.
Roling said the two horses had rubbed their heads together and the bridle came off of one.
“They weren’t spooked,” the chief said. “It was just what animals do.”
The horses broke away from the buggy, ran 1,600 feet and crashed into the crowd until the animals ran into the back of a minivan that was a service vehicle for Maquoketa State Bank’s parade entry.
The bank’s Kevin Burns said the horses plowed headlong into the van and dropped. The horses then were captured without incident. Roling said he didn’t believe the animals were injured.
Roling said one of the parade entrants pulled his antique haybine in the way, but the effort didn’t stop the animals. Others were trying to grab the reins as the horses flew by.
Roling said there were 50 to 60 emergency medical crew members who assisted with the injured. There were 15 ambulances from Maquoketa, Dubuque, Preston, Miles, Sabula and Bellevue who hauled the injured to five hospitals in Maquoketa, Clinton and Dubuque.
“It only took about an hour to get everyone hauled away,” Roling said. “Everyone did their jobs.“
Roling couldn’t speculate whether there will be changes in the parades concerning horses in the future. He said none of the activities for Sunday were canceled.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver released a statement regarding the accident: “My thoughts and prayers are with the town of Bellevue and those injured at today’s Fourth of July parade. ... In addition, I want to thank the spectators who assisted the injured and the emergency responders who quickly provided medical care.”
Paramedics treated victims in a nearby art gallery, witness Crilly said, and a triage area was set up near the Mississippi River, where volunteers held up tarps to shield the paramedics and injured from the sun and heat. Others brought the injured ice and water, she said.
“It was madness,” Crilly said, adding “The town really came together. It was a huge community effort.”
Carol Dietzel, house supervisor at Mercy Medical Center-Dubuque, said nine of the 10 patients brought there were children. One child in critical condition was flown to University Hospitals, Iowa City, she said. Six children were treated and released.
Another child in critical condition underwent surgery and also was expected to be transferred to University of Iowa Hospitals, she said. A third child and an adult, both in fair condition, were awaiting surgery at Mercy Medical Center.
Dietzel said other patients were taken to Finley Hospital in Dubuque, Jackson County Hospital in Maquoketa and Medical Associates Acute Care clinic in Dubuque. Two people taken to the clinic were treated and released.
The mayor said word went out via text message and phones that doctors and nurses were needed to treat the injured. He said all the injured were being treated within an hour.
He said between 3,000 and 4,000 people attend the annual parade, many people coming in from rural areas and nearby towns.
“We’ve never really had any tragedy,” Murray said. “Usually our biggest nemesis is if it rains. That’s what we’re always worried about.”
Such accidents with horses often can be prevented with proper training, handling and precautions, said Dallas E. Armstrong, owner/operator of Armstrong Riding Stables and Carriages, East Moline. He was not at the parade but has extensive experience with teams of horses in events throughout Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
“The thing of it is, too many people have nice horses and they want to put them in a parade. It’s exciting,” Armstrong said.
Usually, Armstrong said, “It’s people problems, not horse problems. Putting a horse in a parade, you’re talking about a lot of responsibility.”
If a bridle is placed properly, “there’s no way it’s going to come off,” he said. “Normally if (the horse) is well-trained, this shouldn’t have been a problem. The one horse should have kept the other one in line.
“I’ve been in this profession a lifetime. The last thing you ever want is an accident.”
(The Associated Press and Quad-City Times reporter Linda Cook contributed to this report.)
ORIGINALLY POSTED 2:34 p.m.: BELLEVUE, Iowa — More than 20 people, ages 2 to 65, were injured after two horses plowed into the crowd during the Bellevue Heritage Day parade Sunday morning.
Jackson County Sheriff Russ Kettmann said it appears many of those injured were children. However, Bellevue Fire Chief Chris Roling did not detail the extent of the injuries in an early afternoon media briefing. Two victims were taken from the scene by medical helicopter.
Roling said two horses pulling a buggy in the parade were spooked when a bridle came off one of the horses. They ran into the crowd with the buggy jumping the curb, according to eyewitnesses.
The buggy’s wheels were skidding along the curb, which is where many children were sitting waiting for candy to be thrown by parade participants.
Kevin Burns, of Maquoketa State Bank, said the horses ran down Riverview Street about three blocks and collided with the rear of the Maquoketa State Bank minivan in the parade. The horses went down and were captured.
Eight ambulances from Maquoketa, Sabula, Preston, Key West and Bellevue were called for assistance. Two air ambulances also were called, and one landed near Lock and Dam 12 just after noon.
“The (emergency) response was fantastic from the other area towns,” Roling said.