Man Describes Horses In Bellevue Parade: 'They Were On A Dead Run'

By Steve Gravelle, Reporter

BELLEVUE -- The Bellevue Police Department has counted 25 people injured Sunday, counting two who sought treatment on their own.

The list of the injured compiled by Bellevue police includes these people treated at Mercy Medical Center, Dubuque: Jessica Mack, 4, Bellevue; McKral Dennison, 2, Bellevue; Casey Mannen, 6, Bellevue; Emma Bryan, 12, Pheonix, Ariz.; Alexis Yackle, 5, DeWitt; Austin Brandes, 8, Bellevue; Jaina Crist, 7, Maquoketa; Teri Feyen, 38, Dubuque; April Mannen, 26, Bellevue; Aden Schmidt, 4, Bellevue.

Treated at Mercy Medical Center-North, Clinton: JoAnn Schlecht, 74, Bellevue; Charles Wenzel, 70, Clinton.

Treated at Jackson County Regional Medical Center, Maquoketa: George Seastrand, 62, Calamus; Stefanie Seastrand, 30, Folsom, Calif.; Elsie Kilburg, 5, Bellevue; Gary Kilburg, 43, Bellevue; Dayton Richards, 10, Maquoketa.

Treated at Finley Hospital, Dubuque: Adam Schmidt, 6, Bellevue; Teagan Armstrong, 6, Plainfield, Ill.; Tyler Hueneke, 4, Lemont, Ill.; Zachary Hueneke, 2, Lemont, Ill.; Jaden Dondliniger, 3, Bellevue.

All but four of those injured were transported by amublance. April Mannen, Gary Kilburg, Dayton Richards, and Jaden Dondliniger were taken to hospitals by private vehicle.

The list doesn't include the two people who sought treatment on their own.

Driver with combine: 'They were literally at a dead run'

Jim Blitgen tried to block the frightened horses at Sunday's parade in Bellevue with his pull-type farm combine as they bolted past him.

Blitgen, 51, who lives north of Bellevue, was riding his 1943 John Deere tractor near the rear of the parade when he became aware something was going wrong behind him.

"It was probably the people pointing, I looked back and right away I seen it was a loose wagon and a team of horses," Blitgen said this afternoon. "The horses were coming up between the curb and the other vehicles. They were coming down the right side between the vehicles and the other curb and when they went wide, I made a little maneuver."

The tractor was moving too slowly to completely block the horses, but he tried again as the animals headed between the combine and the curb.

"When they were lined up on me and they were starting to go back to the curb I hit my brakes real hard hoping to make the horses slam into the rear of my vehicle," he said. "One of them did – it moved me ahead about two feet."

The horses continued to gallop for a few more blocks, but Blitgen checked their rush.

"The people in that were in that little area right there, it slowed (the horses) down enough and got their attention so that they got back away from the curb," said Blitgen. "They were literally at a dead run."

Blitgen said he was busy getting his tractor-combine rig stopped, but he got a glimpse of a woman in the carriage.

"She was just hanging onto the seats," he said. "It was kind of a blur when it went by me. I couldn't even hardly tell you because that happened, I was making sure the tractor stopped."

With firefighters and volunteer EMTs directing traffic before the parade, help was on the scene virtually instantly.

"Bellevue's got a very good, highly trained ambulance, fire department," Blitgen said.

People who lived along the parade route brought ice, towels, and other items to assist paramedics, Blitgen said.

"It was the people who lived on the street and what went on to get the people taken care of. There was a lot done real efficiently."

Blitgen said he doesn't know the Steines well, but they and others in the parade are experienced horsemen.

"These boys have been around horses a long time, and sometimes things can happen," he said. "It just escalated. One thing led into the next and it was a bad deal all around."

Blitgen said he didn't stay around once the horses went past him.

"We just got out of the way because we knew the ambulance were going to come down through there," he said. "That really affected a lot of people that are from this town that had to deal with it. I didn't even want to see how bad it was."

Woman says boyfriend jumped on horse to hold it down

Tammy Muller, 43, a bartender who works downtown, said she was watching the parade at an intersection when she heard screaming. She said she looked up, saw the horses and yelled, "back up!"

The frenzied animals sped past her and were heading for a large crowd including children who had gathered to pick up candy, when they crashed into the Maquoketa State Bank's float as it turned at the intersection.

The horses went down, and her boyfriend Dennis "Cowboy" Dunne jumped on one to hold it down, Muller said. She said he described the animals as quarter horses.

Mayor Virgil Murray said officials were working Monday to reconstruct exactly what happened at the parade, which he described as "bigger than Christmas" in the small Mississippi River town on the Iowa-Illinois border. The parade, which draws 3,000 to 4,000 people to the town of about 2,300, began about 10 a.m. Sunday. The rampage began sometime between 10:30 and 11:15 a.m., he said, and was over in minutes.

The horses got spooked after they rubbed heads and one's bridle fell off, police said. They ran about six blocks, moving up onto sidewalks and back into the road, plowing through children lined up along the street to watch the parade, Murray said.

People at the parade said the buggy hit a sign and overturned, dumping its four passengers. One, Steines, died Sunday evening at University Hospitals in Iowa City, according to the Hachmann Funeral Home in Bellevue. Her husband had been driving the carriage.

The horses continued to run after it came unhitched, Muller said. They were still harnessed together when they hit the float. She said they eventually got up and people led them down to the river to calm them down.

Children picking up candy, pulled to safety

Sandie Crilly was helping her 8-year-old son, 12-year-old niece and 2-year-old granddaughter pick up Tootsie Rolls when someone yelled to get out of the way.

Looking up, she saw the panicked horses dragging a carriage charging toward them.

"I could see it was two horses," said Crilly, 46, of Willow Springs, Ill., who was visiting her parents in Bellevue. "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."

Someone pulled her granddaughter to safety, but Crilly said her niece broke her wrist and lost her two front teeth. At least 22 other people were injured, some critically, police and hospital officials said.

Many of them were children like Crilly's niece who were picking up candy from the street that had been tossed to them. Their injuries ranged from cuts and bruises to broken bones, concussions, collapsed lungs and other serious injuries, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reported.

The injured were sent by ambulance and medical helicopter to hospitals in Dubuque, Maquoketa and Iowa City. Most were treated and released, but at least four people remained in critical condition early Monday, hospital officials said.

Paramedics treated victims at an art gallery in town and a triage area was set up near the Mississippi River, where volunteers held up tarps to shield the injured and paramedics from the sun and heat, Crilly said. Others brought the injured ice and water, she said.

"It was madness," Crilly said. "I mean we were in a triage. The town really came together. It was a huge community effort."

Murray said residents were shocked, and they've never had problems with having horses in the parade before.

"We've never really had any tragedy," the mayor said. "Usually our biggest nemesis is if it rains. That's what we're always worried about."

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver released a statement saying the victims were in his thoughts and prayers.

"I am especially saddened because the accident occurred during the events celebrating Independence Day, which is a day that should be filled with pride and joy for all Iowans and Americans," Culver said.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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