City releases official report on Charleston carriage horse incident

RAW VIDEO: Charleston carriage horse falls on Meeting Street
Published: Apr. 20, 2017 at 5:49 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2017 at 10:58 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Did Big John slip while turning a corner or just decide to stop, lie down and wait? The City of Charleston released an official report and answered questions about the incident and regulations for the carriage industry.

"When it fell to its rear, it decided to lay on its side," Dan Riccio explained. Riccio is the director of the City of Charleston Department of Livability and Tourism. "If a horse attempts to get up with the equipment on, it can cause more harm than good. Based on yesterday's event, it appears the horse knew what to do."

The official report from the City of Charleston says it "stumbled and fell" to the pavement. The report, released Thursday afternoon, tracks the horse's journey from North Market Street to Church Street to Pinckney Street and then onto Meeting Street traveling North.

"At approximately 323 Meeting St. (in front of FIG restaurant) the horse stumbled and fell to the pavement," the report states.

"There was a horse that was down on the ground. It looked dead to me, I know it's not, but it looked dead," witness Elizabeth Fort said.

The Charleston Carriage Works driver called the company barn for help and passengers exited the carriage, the report states. Livability officers said the horse was on its right side and barn hands were attempting to release the horse from the harness and tack equipment. Firefighters from the nearby Meeting Street Fire Station also helped lift the horse to free it from the entanglement, at which point the horse sat up on its rump.

"A large strap from the harness was used to lift the horse so it could get its rear legs from under its body and Big John stood up on all fours," the report states.

Big John was then walked back to the CCW barn and the entire incident lasted 11 minutes, the report states.

"I don't believe that anyone in the carriage industry would do harm to their own animals. It's their livelihood," Riccio said. "Our ordinance is very detailed and very strict. I have an equine manager that monitors the carriage animals just about daily."

Equine Manager Shannon Tilman examined the horse with the carriage company staff and found two minor abrasions on the horse's rear left hock and right front elbow and an independent vet was immediately called, the report states.

A second report from Tilman indicates a "trot test" was performed and recorded on video and the horse showed no signs of lameness. The horse's temperature was normal before the tour and at the time of his return to the barn, the report states.

Veterinarian Tara Byrd's report indicated recommendations for topical treatment for the superficial abrasions. Byrd's report stated the horse was "fit to return to work immediately, no restrictions."

Charleston Carriage Works, however, did not return Big John to work. The horse had the rest of Wednesday off, Thursday off entirely and will perform mock carriage rides (no passengers) on Friday. He will return to work Saturday.

Fort does not think that these sanctions and the investigation are enough.

"I just would like there to be a third party that could come in and give an unbiased study and the facts will speak for themselves," she explained, adding downtown Charleston should no longer have carriages period. "It is a crowded, congested environment where these horses are having to maneuver around cars, rickshaws, skateboards, bicycles."

Jack O'Toole, the communications director with the City of Charleston, says the city is open to conducting more research studies on the matter.

O'Toole says there is an official procedure whenever an incident involving a carriage horse occurs.

By law, he says, all incidents must be reported immediately.

City tourism enforcement officers are then dispatched to the scene to investigate the incident, work to ensure the horse's well-being, and file an official report, which is then made available to the public, he said.

In this case, the city released its full report the day after the incident. The report included an incident report and a report from the city's equine manager, who O'Toole says is one of only two people in the county who has been trained as a certified animal abuse specialist who can detect incidents of abuse or mistreatment. The city's release also included a report from the veterinarian, who was summoned by the carriage company to examine the horse, provide recommendations for treatment and determine how soon the horse could return to service.

If the incident had involved any other injury to individuals or property, the O'Toole said the Charleston Police Department would have likely filed its own report, which would also have been released to the public.

As part of their investigation at the scene, O'Toole says the tourism enforcement officers will interview any available witnesses to the accident.

O'Toole says there is a weight limit for carriage horses that is determined by a mathematical formula that takes into account the number of horses or mules that will pull a carriage, their weight and the weight of the carriage, plus the number of seats in a carriage that can potentially be occupied. The formula provides a maximum number of passengers, taking into account, he says, the possibility of an above-average weighted person, so that it is almost impossible the established weight limit could be exceeded.

Addressing concerns of a potential conflict of interest because of the revenue the carriage horse industry brings to the city, O'Toole provided the most-recent totals of the expenses involved in regulating the industry compared with the revenue it brings to the city.

He said the city makes a total of $450,929.45 from the industry, an amount that includes carriage medallion fees, tourism permits and tourism ticket fees. But the city's expenses in regulating the industry total more than $129,000, a figure he calls somewhat conservative because it doesn't include pro-rated salaries for time spent maintaining the department, leaving a revenue of $321,625.

O'Toole says that amounts just 0.16 percent of Charleston's annual city budget.

According to a statement just released Thursday from the Charleston Carriage Works, the 22-year-old horse tripped while pulling a carriage on Meeting Street.

"He simply tripped over his own feet, fell down, and wisely waited for us to get there and unharness him before getting back up, which he did immediately afterwards," company spokesman Broderick Christoff said. "We walked him back to the barn and the passengers, high school kids, even helped push the carriage back to our barn."

Christoff confirmed earlier reports that the incident happened during the horse's first tour of the day.

"He wasn't tired, didn't collapse, wasn't hot - simply tripped, which happens from time to time (to all of us)," he said.

In an abundance of caution, he was examined and cleared by our vet to return to his "normal, non-internet-celebrity life as a work horse," he said.

Questions persisted Thursday morning after the incident because of conflicting accounts of exactly what happened.

Charleston Police issued a release at 5:14 p.m. Wednesday stating the horse slipped while rounding the corner from Meeting Street onto Hassel Street. Police issued their release based on information from numerous officers on the scene.

Charleston Police did not fill out an incident report, according to Detective Doug Galluccio.

Riccio said the horse suffered minor scratches to its left rear hock and right front elbow. Riccio said immediately after the fall, the horse sat up and was helped back to its feet.

But Ellen Harley, a witness who sent video of the incident to the Charleston Animal Society, disputed that.

"A horse that slipped would get up quickly," she said. "This horse could not get up immediately or for over 30 minutes."

Harley said she has owned horses her whole life and currently owns six rescue horses.

The first reports from the scene claimed the horse "collapsed."

A short time later, police said the horse appeared to just stop, and that there were no injuries.

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