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Harbour Nights stampede horror

THE ROYAL GAZETTE - Bermuda – April 26, 2007 

By Glenn Jones, Sam Strangeways, Amanda Dale and Ruth O'Kelly Lynch 

At least 19 people - including a young boy - were injured last night after two horses dragging a carriage ran amok along Front Street during the first Harbour Night of the year.

The out-of-control animals ploughed into the back of a dense crowd of unsuspecting tourists and locals watching a Gombeys’ performance at about 7.30 p.m., trapping people beneath the wheels of the vehicle.

Police, ambulances and firefighters rushed to the scene and shocked eye witnesses reported seeing victims with head wounds and others unconscious being put onto stretchers.

A Public Safety Ministry spokeswoman said 19 people were hurt but none of the injuries were life threatening. The casualties - who were treated at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital - are understood to be a mixture of visitors and locals. The number could rise today as people were still walking into the emergency room as The Royal Gazette went to press last night.

The horses - believed to belong to Dockyard stable owner Ray Bean - bolted close to the bird cage, dragging their owner behind them before he got pinned between his carriage and another. The extent of Mr. Bean’s injuries was not known but witnesses said he ran after the horses even after being trampled.

The animals galloped along Front Street as scores of bystanders leapt out of their way until they reached the flagpole opposite Butterfield Bank. The crowd there couldn’t hear the horses’ hooves or warning shouts because of the loud music so failed to move out of the way.

Carlos Symonds, principal of Clearwater Middle School, was there with some students. “People were screaming; it was surreal,” he said. “It was bloody. I saw at least eight people lying on the ground, maybe even 12.”

Hamilton Mayor Sutherland Madeiros was visibly distressed as he described how he watched helplessly from the sidelines as the animals trampled spectators.

“I was just outside Crissons and I heard people shouting and I looked back and it was just two horses coming straight down Front Street at full gallop. It was like a parting of the river as people got out of the way. It just happened so fast.

“The crowd was so dense that they just couldn’t hear the noise and had no idea what was about to happen. Now you think: could you have grabbed the reins?”

Ellen-Kate Horton, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, which organises the weekly Wednesday Harbour Nights along with Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of Bermuda and Spanish Town Entertainment, said: “Nobody could have stopped them. Fortunately down here all the children got out of the way although there was one little boy injured.”

She said she saw casualties bleeding with leg and head injuries. “I saw bone,” she added. “People just fell. A lot of people got knocked over here.”

Community Affairs Minister Wayne Perinchief - who was seen helping to lift the carriage off the injured - described the incident as “extremely frightening”.

He said: “I saw two horses running very rapidly at a full gallop pulling a carriage. The Gombeys were dancing and the crowd was here. Some people were shouting to get the crowd to move but the horses ran right into the crowd and fell. The horses actually ran over the crowd.”

He said a group of spectators quickly got underneath the carriage and lifted it up while local men calmed the horses. “A lot of those under the carriage didn’t move. I saw at least a dozen casualties. It seemed that most of the injured were visitors but we had a few local injuries also.

“We don’t know why the horses got spooked. It’s very unfortunate and we just give our regrets that this happened. I can’t remember any incident like this before at Harbour Nights.”

A hospital spokeswoman said emergency room staff stayed after their shifts to cope with the influx of patients but it had quieted down by midnight. “Hospital staff responded really well,” she added.

Chamber of Commerce president Diane Gordon said the horse and carriage rides were specifically kept away from the crowd during Harbour Nights for safety reasons and added that nothing like this had happened before.

She said: “This is devastating. Safety is a big concern for us. Something must have really spooked these horses for this to happen.”

Philip Barnett, who takes on the chamber presidency next week, added: “It’s a tragic situation. Harbour Nights is supposed to be a fun and exciting evening and for this to happen is horrible. We are extremely concerned about the condition of the people injured.”

Premier Ewart Brown is off Island but Acting Premier Paula Cox rushed to the scene with Acting Public Safety Minister Neletha Butterfield to meet witnesses. Ms Cox described the witnesses as examples of the “triumph of the human spirit” because they were so concerned for the wellbeing of the injured.

Ms Butterfield, who later attended the hospital, said: “I would like to reassure the families and wish those injured a speedy recovery. I would also offer my thanks to the emergency services personnel who handled a difficult situation well and the staff of the emergency room at KEMH. who provided care to the injured.

“As more details become available officers from the Bermuda Police Service and from the Ministry of the Environment, Telecommunication and e-Commerce will be better placed to determine just what caused this unfortunate event.”

Glenn Doers, general manager of Spanish Town, praised the crowd’s response but said most people were powerless to help. “You see a horse and carriage flying through a crowd of people and you can’t do anything. You have a sense of hopelessness and senselessness.”

City horse and carriage tours face possible ban

April 27, 2007

The Corporation of Hamilton is considering the future of horse tours in the city after Wednesday’s stampede, but Harbour Nights will continue as usual next week.

Nineteen people were injured — some seriously — after two spooked horses broke loose and tore down Front Street with their carriage during the tourist event. Many were trapped under the wheels.

A child is said to have escaped with relatively minor injuries because a woman visitor to the Island landed on top of him in the melee and protected him from the worst. She was being treated for multiple fractures last night.

Eyewitnesses described dramatic scenes more akin to a movie than real life as the first Harbour Nights of the season turned into a nightmare.

“There was a mad chaos, which reminded me of the movies we watch on TV when the bulls get out in Mexico and clobber the crowds. I really couldn’t believe it,” said eyewitness Katherine Dunmore, 23, who watched from the balcony of Pickled Onion.

Diane Gordon, executive vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce which helps organise the event, said: “Watching the situation we felt it was straight out of a horror film. We had no control to stop what was taking place.

“We were looking up at the sky and said ‘What a great night’, and in two seconds everything changed.”

She was unwilling to comment on the cause of the accident yesterday, telling a press conference it was under Police investigation.

The victims ranged from a seven-year-old boy to a 73-year-old.

Mrs. Gordon said of the child victim: “He was under the lady with the worst injuries so he was protected...we are all very pleased he has now been released from the hospital.”

According to a hospital doctor, the woman suffered two broken arms and a broken leg.

The incident involved horses belonging to Ray Bean, who usually operates at Dockyard. Mr. Bean is said by eyewitnesses to have chased his runaway horses and calmed them down, despite suffering rib injuries when they first ran out of control. Mrs. Gordon visited him in hospital.

“He was certainly very shaken up and was in pain. He had been trodden on by the carriage and was awaiting his X-ray results. He said he thought there was a lot of bruising and some damage to his ribs. He was clearly shocked and concerned, asking about other people as well,” she said.

Mr. Bean was released from hospital after treatment and was recovering at his Somerset home yesterday. Asked how he was feeling, his wife — who would not give her first name — told The Royal Gazette on the telephone: “I don’t even have the right words for how he is...he will be alright.”

Mrs. Bean said she did not wish to discuss the matter further, and Mr. Bean was not willing to speak with the media.

Mrs. Gordon said an inquiry was in full swing yesterday.

“We are giving our 100 percent support to the Police service, who are working very hard to investigate this. We have had a great response from witnesses. Everyone wants to be able to piece together the puzzle,” she said.

Chamber of Commerce President Philip Barnett told The Royal Gazette that Front Street CCTV cameras did not capture the horses running toward the crowd because they were pointing in the wrong direction. However, they picked up the aftermath and Police have a copy of a tourist video tape catching the moment of impact, he said.

Police spokesman Robin Simmons said it was “way too early” to speculate on what caused the horses to bolt, and officers were still speaking to witnesses.

He added: “The Bermuda Police Service would like to commend the quick and capable response of our officers who attended the scene as well as the hospital to assist following the incident.”

Hamilton Mayor Sutherland Madeiros also said the response of the emergency services, general public and hospital staff made him proud. “It is unfortunate it takes such a tragic event such as this to bring all visitors and residents together,” he said. “I did visit a number of visitors in hospital and one said: ‘Don’t blame yourselves, it was an accident. We love your Island and we’ll be back’.”

Mrs. Gordon added: “They were all very patient and understanding. They were shocked and concerned but were extremely supportive.”

Mr. Madeiros revealed that the Corporation of Hamilton is considering a temporary ban on horse and carriage rides in the city.

“I think the Corporation needs to step back for the moment and reflect on what took place, and based on that we are probably going to temporarily suspend horses and carriages from plying their trade within Hamilton until there has been time to fully review the circumstances,” he told The Royal Gazette.

At a later press conference, he said legal advice was being taken on such a move and it was too early to advise of any action.

News of a possible ban was greeted with shock from Dee Charles of Shilo Carriage company, the main horse operator in Hamilton.

“I’m very concerned about the impact on my business,” she said.

Mr. Madeiros pledged that Harbour Nights would carry on as normal next Wednesday. “We hope residents and visitors alike will support the event as they have in the past,” he said.

Organisers have appealed to visitors who wish to contact them about the incident to telephone the Department of Tourism on 292 0023 or Chamber of Commerce on 295 8930.

Hospital staff work through the night

April 27, 2007 

Hospital staff worked all night to help 19 people hurt in the Front Street horse stampede.

Injuries from the drama on Wednesday evening ranged from broken bones to concussions, lacerations and bruises.

The youngest victim was a seven-year-old boy, who suffered a broken collar bone, and the oldest was 73. Nine victims were tourists — four of them American — and the others local residents.

Fourteen people were rushed to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in a fleet of ambulances with others described as walking wounded after the spooked horses ploughed into a dense crowd at the Harbour Nights event.

All but one — a female visitor to Bermuda — had been released from hospital yesterday. According to plastic surgeon Dr. Christopher Johnson, speaking on Hott 107.5 radio, she suffered the worst injuries, which were two broken arms and a broken leg, plus a partially detached ear.

Executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce Diane Gordon said yesterday: “She has undergone surgery and has to undergo surgery again.” She added that the woman — who has not been named — was expected to remain in hospital “for several weeks” and her son was due to arrive on the Island last night.

The patient’s condition was described as “stable” by a hospital spokeswoman.

Dr. Edward Schultz, Director of Emergency Medicine at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, said some of the patients his team treated were brought in unconscious or with concussion, and some needed surgery for their wounds.

“There were a lot of soft tissue injuries, lacerations, abrasions and bruises, a few people had either bruised or fractured ribs, and there were some patients with broken arms,” he said.

“The vast majority had relatively minor injuries, and I want to emphasise that there were no serious head, chest, abdominal or spinal injuries.”

The hospital has a disaster plan to call in staff after major incidents. However, Dr. Shultz said this did not need to be put into swing after the incident at 7.30 p.m, because staff from the day and night shifts were both around ahead of their regular 8 p.m shift change. They were led by four emergency doctors and three house doctors, plus Dr. Johnson. “The day staff stayed on although they’d already worked all day. The staff did a fantastic job,” said Dr. Shultz, explaining that four or five people worked all night.

Two of the Americans who were hurt were passengers on the Empress of the Seas cruise ship which was docked in Hamilton harbour at the time.

Michael Sheehan, from Royal Caribbean Cruises, which operates the ship, said yesterday: “A couple from the US was injured. Both the husband and wife were bruised. The husband also suffered a broken ankle.

“Both were taken to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, treated and released last night, at which time they returned to the ship. The medical team onboard Empress of the Seas is overseeing their care now. They are recovering well and in good spirits.”

The vessel left Bermuda early yesterday morning.

Please don't destroy our livelihood

By Elizabeth Roberts and Amanda Dale

April 27, 2007 

Horse and carriage workers spoke of their distress after the Front Street horror, but also their anger at news of a possible ban on their trade in the city.

Mayor Sutherland Madeiros told a press conference yesterday that the Corporation of Hamilton is seeking legal advice regarding the future of the popular tourist attraction.

“I think the Corporation would like to have a little more control,” he said.

Ray Bean, owner of the horses that crashed through barriers into the Harbour Nights event, injuring 19 people on Wednesday evening, was unwilling to talk publicly yesterday.

He was said by industry insiders to run a company that usually takes tourists on tours from Dockyard. The pair of grey horses involved in the incident are kept at Terceira’s stables in Devonshire, where staff yesterday said they were uninjured and doing fine.

Wayne Hill, a driver with a separate operator, Shilo Carriage Company, was near Mr. Bean when the incident unfolded outside AS Cooper men’s clothing.

Mr. Hill said Mr. Bean had got out of his carriage to tend to one of his horses when the pair got spooked and bolted — pinning their driver between them and the back wheel of the Shilo carriage.

“He grabbed the harness on the horse and was trying to hang on but by that time they were at a full gallop.

“There was a barricade in front of the Birdcage and the horses hit that,” said Mr. Hill, from Southampton.

As Mr. Bean’s horses tore through the barrier and down Front Street, Mr. Hill said he felt powerless to do anything as his own horses were by now “jitterish” and he had to concentrate on keeping them calm — wrenching his back in the process.

“I was pretty shaken up. It was a horrible scene,” he said, speculating that Mr. Bean’s horses were frightened by the volume of people milling around and the noise.

However, despite the horrific incident, Mr. Hill was adamant that a city ban on horses and carriages would be wrong.

“It’s a treat for the tourists. They love it, and some locals too,” he said. “It’s my livelihood and I live for this, to drive the carriages and deal with the tourists.”

Dee Charles, who co-owns Shilo with husband Hobby, said operators were staying away from Front Street for now out of respect.

“We have to come to terms with what happened. They need to investigate. I understand that and we have no intentions to go down there. It’s a very serious matter and I am very upset,” she said.

Shilo, which owns ten hacking and five riding horses is usually the sole horse operator on Front Street, and Mrs. Charles said the thought of a ban filled her with horror.

“I am very much concerned about the impact on my business. This is not a typical event. The Mayor has to understand that I have a business,” she said.

Mrs. Charles believes the answer to ensuring tragedy does not strike again is strengthening the barrier that allowed the runaway horses to access the main part of Front Street on Wednesday.

John DeShields runs Caledonia Stables, which conducts horse tours in St. George’s. He said: “Accidents do happen, whether it’s with horses, bikes, or cars. Horses are part of our heritage. Just because of this accident doesn’t mean they should take horses away.”

Incoming President of the Chamber of Commerce, Philip Barnett stressed yesterday that horses were not allowed on the main part of Front Street during Harbour Nights anyway, and the incident had nothing to do with event organisers.

However, he pledged that detailed consideration will be given to whether they will be allowed to trade on the fringes of the event in future.

“There will be no rash decision on anything as to what the outcome will be, as it will affect someone’s livelihood,” he said.

Wayne Perinchief, Community and Cultural Affairs Minister, told yesterday’s press conference that Government may review the use of horses at public events including the forthcoming Bermuda Day parade on May 24.

Carriage operators are licensed by the Transport Control Department. They undergo a medical examination and are vetted by the Public Service Vehicle Licensing Board. A condition of the license is an examination “for competence to operate the horse and carriage”.

Last night a spokesman said: “TCD has reserved any comment on this matter pending the conclusion of a full Police investigation into the incident.”

Don’t destroy our livelihood, say horse and carriage drivers

I thought someone had been killed

By Sam Strangeways

April 27, 2007 

A 17-year-old boy who helped rescue spectators trapped beneath a runaway horse carriage during Wednesday’s disastrous Harbour Night told yesterday how he thought one man had been killed.

Jack Bridges, from Hamilton Parish, helped lift the vehicle into the air with three of his friends and others after the two horses pulling it crashed into a crowd of people watching a performance of the Gombeys on Front Street.

He told The Royal Gazette “It was very heavy, even with all the people lifting it, about 17 or 18 of them. When I looked down nobody was moving. There were eight or nine people and they were all kind of piled on each other. There was a guy right below me not moving face down and blood pouring from his head. I thought he was dead.”

He added: “As soon as the carriage was lifted I went. People were screaming on the intercom for people to get away and there was way too much blood for me. At first I felt okay but then on the way home it kind of hit me.”

Moments before he assisted the rescue effort, the Bermuda High School student leapt for his life as the wayward horses careered towards him. “If it had been 30 seconds later I would have been in that crowd,” he said. “Two of my friends were already in the crowd and just got out of the way. I was crossing the road to go and watch the performance and all I heard was this guy screaming: ‘get out of the way!’. I saw the horses and just jumped.”

The teenager was at Harbour Nights to watch his school friends — members of the St. John’s Youth Choir —perform at the event. Choristers Honor Brady and Paige Hallett, both 16, said they were crossing Front Street close to the flagpole minutes before they were due on stage when they saw the horses.

Paige, of Hamilton Parish, said: “I couldn’t move. Someone had to pull me out of the way. The horses tried to jump some people and they ended up tripping over them.

“People were screaming. There were people crying. Someone was throwing up in a trash can. It was terrifying; I didn’t sleep at all last night.”

Honor, from Smith’s, said: “It was very chaotic afterwards because everyone was trying to find where their families were. They told us: ‘Harbour Nights is off. The best thing you can do is go home’.”

Choir director Marjorie Pettitt was leading 22 youngsters across the road when the crowd parted in the middle. “It was a nightmare,” she said. “I was walking there like a mother goose with all these goslings behind me in a row. I couldn’t hear anything coming because of the noise of the Gombeys. There was nothing anybody could do.”

She said once it was clear that all her choristers were safe they began frantically searching for their families in the crowd. “There was ensuing panic because they were just worried to death about their parents. Until they were reunited they were in a terrible state.”

She added: “I have been working on the Island with kids for 40 years and I have never seen anything like it. The kids are traumatized. This was our first Harbour Night. They saw the carriage going into a man who then went underneath. It could have been a total, total disaster.”


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