SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Seven people and a horse were injured late Friday morning after an accident involving a horse-drawn carriage.
Savannah Police say it happened at 11:35 a.m. around Warren Square.
Savannah Fire Rescue crews arrived within minutes and discovered seven people and one horse down in the street. All six passengers and the driver of the carriage were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The driver suffered a leg injury, but is expected to recover. The horse is also expected to be okay.
The owner of the carriage company provided WTOC with the following statement regarding the incident:
“It’s a terrible accident and unfortunate situation. My understanding is the horse was scared because tree cutters dropped limb close to him. The horse took off but the driver had control. A car who thought the horse was out of control cut in front of the carriage and cut it off. The carriage then hit a curb and tipped. The carriage did tip over and land on its side. The horse is fine and back in the barn. As the owner, I am cooperating with authorities and I’m very concerned about the people who were hurt.” -John Tarr, owner of Historic Savannah Carriage Tours
Tarr also tells WTOC that the horse involved has been working with his company for the past year-and-a-half. He says they are suspending tours for the rest of Friday.
Historic Savnnah Carriage Tours of Savannah released another statement on Saturday:
“It does appear that a car overcompensated on the turn from Habersham in front of our horse and carriage. The carriage then hit the curb. The rest of the accident is under investigation, and as soon as we know more we will update the public.”
Local and national advocacy groups are responding to the investigation with a call for action. They say the accident is once again bringing awareness to a battle that these groups have been fighting for years.
District 6 Alderman Tony Thomas is calling for an investigation into the accident, as well as a bigger discussion.
“This is on a lot of peoples’ minds. It’s unfortunate that the timing is a re-election year for a lot of folks, but this issue goes beyond elections. This is an issue about what is humane and what is right,” Thomas said.
Local animal advocacy groups are heartbroken. Ruth Arnone, an organizer with Savannah Animal Advocacy, is calling for a citywide ban. She says using these horses for personal entertainment must stop in Savannah.
“The fact that it is a for-profit industry, and it’s really hard for people to give up their money,” Arnone said.
On the national level, PETA is responding to the accident, saying this wasn’t the first time a horse-drawn carriage accident sent people to the hospital, and it won’t be the last unless the city stops forcing horses to work extremely hard for tourism.
“When people realize what the animals endure and what it’s taking from them every day by using them, maybe it won’t sound or feel so romantic, and so interesting, and so exciting.”
We spoke to several people who were there at the time and witnessed the accident.
A Good Samaritan was actually painting a house in Warren Square when he says the horse and carriage full of tourists came careening around the corner toward him, out of control.
David Major says it was like a scene out of the movies, and his first instinct was to get out of the way, which meant jumping down off his ladder. Once the carriage wheels hit the curb, the wagon flipped, tossing its six passengers and the driver to the ground.
Chatham Emergency Services says the first ambulance arrived within three minutes of the call.
In the moments following the crash, bystanders, including Major, jumped into action to help those hurt and pinned under the carriage.
“Well, all the people were pinned under the carriage, so me and some other Good Samaritans got together and we picked the carriage up, turned it back up, and helped the people up. We set some of the people on the steps here,” Major said.
One woman who works in Columbia Square on Habersham, just on the other side of Broughton Street, says the commotion got the attention of everyone in her office so much that they followed after the carriage after it passed by on Habersham to make sure everyone was okay.
“I heard loud noises and I thought it was someone yelling, and then we heard the carriage come from this way, and it was really fast. I mean, it was running. Then, when we saw it go around this corner, the carriage tipped a little bit, but then it went back right side, and it just kept going. Then, we came out of the office and we followed it down there, and we saw everyone going that way, and when we came around the corner, the people were already on the ground,” Sheila Case said.
Alderman Thomas says he wants to have a community meeting to hear from the residents as the city moves forward with the discussion.
The Savannah Police Department’s TIU is investigating the cause of the accident.
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