APACHE JUNCTION, AZ - Two people were hurt in a crash involving a horse-drawn stagecoach in Apache Junction on Saturday, according to the Superstition Fire and Medical District.
Fire officials say the incident happened at the Lost Dutchman Days Rodeo, near Apache Boulevard and Lost Dutchman Boulevard.
According to SFMD, the horse-drawn stagecoach hit several vehicles.
The horses were walked from the scene to their owners to be checked out, according to fire officials.
Before the start of the rodeo, the Wells Fargo stagecoach was in the process of making a lap around the arena to warm up the crowd when the incident happened.
Fan Miranda Ternes, who frequents the rodeo, saw a potential issue the moment the stagecoach entered the arena.
"The one back horse was a little frustrated and throwing its head around a little bit," Ternes said.
Ternes told ABC15 the handler seemed to have good control of the situation, but the one horse apparently had other plans.
"I believe the one horse that was agitated saw the entrance and just wanted out," she said.
Both Ternes and a rodeo spokesperson note how fortunate everyone is the runaway stagecoach did not injure any customers. An organizer told ABC15 several thousand people were at the rodeo on Saturday.
"Something went wrong, and the horses took off," said Krysta Paffrath, Public Relations and Marketing Director for Lost Dutchman Days.
Paffrath says rodeo organizers will consult with Wells Fargo to see what, if anything, could prevent this from happening in the future.
"You're dealing with 12-hundred pound animals," Paffrath said. "At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to."
A Wells Fargo representative told ABC15 the stagecoach is operated by a well-trained contractor, who was not injured.
A company employee, who was onboard was injured but is expected to be ok. The Chairman of the Lost Dutchman Days Rodeo, Denny Walter, was injured and is in stable condition at the hospital. Another rodeo committee member was also onboard and is ok.
Ternes says the incident was certainly unusual, but she notes the quick response by everyone involved.
"It could have just been so much worse than it was," Ternes said. "Everybody really moved quickly and handled it the best that they could."
Rodeo organizers say this is the first accident of its kind in the event's 54-year history.
Wells Fargo released the following statement on the incident:
The driver of the Stagecoach is not an employee but a contractor. That term should not concern you because our Wells Fargo Stagecoach Appearance Program (SAP) contractors have an average of 19 years of experience working with the program. The contractors/vendors own and transport the horses that pull the stagecoaches, which are owned by Wells Fargo. We also own the trucks and trailers used by the vendors.
All contractors are familiar with, and expected to follow, Wells Fargo procedures because they are designed to ensure the safety of the vehicles, the public, contractors, sub-contractors, and horses before, during, and after a stagecoach appearance. We only hire experienced and reputable contractors, and defer to their judgment if they express any safety concerns and we are judicious in approving only locations and events where a horse-drawn stagecoach and big rig can maneuver and operate safely.
Unfortunately, accidents/incidents that are beyond our control can and do occur. When they do, we fully cooperate with any investigation.
Our immediate concern is for the victims. This is what we know: Our employee was treated, released and is resting at home. The stagecoach driver, who is a contractor, was not injured. Another person with the rodeo was also not injured. The horses were not injured. Unfortunately, Rodeo President, Denny Walker, is still in the hospital. Our thoughts are with Denny and his family, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
Lost Dutchman Days Rodeo also released a statement on the incident:
On Saturday, February 24, 2018 at approximately 1:40 p.m. a stagecoach accident occurred at the Lost Dutchman Days Rodeo, Apache Junction, Arizona. As the Wells Fargo stage was being presented in the arena with dignitaries and representatives of Wells Fargo, the stage horses did not respond to the driver and ran away with the historic stage in tow. The stage made contact with the entrance gate shearing it off and the stage proceeded through the rodeo contestant area and towards Lost Dutchman Blvd through the parking lot. The stage came in contact with vehicles coming to a stop when the right front wheel of the stage lodged in the back tire area of a full size parked pickup. The collision caused three of the four occupants on the stage to be ejected. The team of horses were not injured in the accident. As of today, February 26, 2018, one person remains in the hospital. Rodeo chairman, Denny Walter, Apache Junction, AZ, received a substantial head injury. He is currently in the trauma unit ICU of Banner Desert Hospital. He is awake and alert following the instructions of his team of doctors as they dictate his path of care. Others injured in the accident have no comment as of the date/time of this release. 2:00 p.m. 2/26/2018