Bellevue Police Say Cause of Fourth of July Horse Stampede Unknown
By Mary Sharp, Content Manager
BELLEVUE, Iowa - Bellevue police on Monday said it's impossible to say what spooked two horses in the Fourth of July parade, leading to the stampede that killed one woman and injured more than 30 people in the Mississippi River town.
The final investigative report revealed that one of the two horses had to be put down because of three fractures to its leg.
Police Chief Lynn Schwager said some witnesses had speculated birds swooping around the horses may have spooked them, "but there is no evidence to support this at this time."
He said police had investigated and rejected a number of theories about what caused the horses to bolt. Police, he said, found no evidence to suggest the animals were spooked by fireworks, sirens, horns, vehicle backfires, squealing tires or children throwing objects.
The final report also identified five additional people ranging in age from 8 to 99 that were injured when the horses broke loose from a buggy being driven in the parade by their owner, Mardell Steines.
Those five names raised the count to 29 injured, though Schwager said "it has become apparent there were numerous others who suffered minor injuries that didn't require treatment."
Janet Steines, 60, the wife of Mardell Steines, died when she fell from the buggy to the pavement.
Schwager said in his report that seven people were in the horse-drawn buggy the day of the parade Janet and Mardell Steines of Springbrook; the Steineses' son Kevin, 38, and his wife, Jennifer, 33, and their two children, Aubree, 5, and Keegan, 7, all of Dubuque; and the Steineses' son Craig, 26, of Bellevue.
The investigation, Schwager said, detailed the incident this way: One of the two horses pulling the Steines buggy became agitated by an unknown cause and rubbed its head against the left horse or its rigging, partially dislodging its bridle. When Craig Steines got out of the buggy and approached the horse to replace the bridle, the horse dipped its head, completely dislodging the bridle.
Craig Steines held the horse, preparing to replace the bridle. The parade began to move, and the horses started forward. Craig Steines attempted to restrain the right horse and replace its bridle.
The horses moved to the left of the wagon in front of them and then back to the center of the street.
Craig Steines lost his grip on the right horse, and the buggy moved to the right.
Mardell Steines fell from the wagon onto the pavement but held onto the reins, attempting to stop the horses as they ran down Riverview Street for about a block.
When he released the reins, Kevin Steines jumped from the buggy, trying unsuccessfully to grab the reins. Janet Steines remained in the buggy's front seat, yelling warnings to the crowd.
The buggy struck a tree near the intersection of Park Street, and Janet Steines was thrown to the pavement. Jennifer Steines and her two children stayed in the buggy until it came to rest.
The horses, now free of the buggy, continued running south on Riverview Street until they hit a van at State Street.
Schwager said witnesses reported the buggy was stopped next to a purple martin birdhouse and that the birds were agitated and swooping around the people, vehicles and animals near their birdhouse.
It's possible to speculate the birds may have contributed to the horses' initial agitation, Schwager said, "but there is no evidence to support this at this time."
"The Bellevue Police Department continues to offer sympathy and condolences to the Steines family as well as all the other victims of this incident and their families," Schwager said.