Two horses running out of control trampled children collecting candy and other onlookers along a Fourth of July parade route in a small Mississippi River town in eastern Iowa on Sunday.
Twenty-four people were injured, including at least two children who were in critical condition, police and hospital officials said.
The horses took off after one rubbed its head against the other, removing that horse’s bridle, police said. The horses, with a wagon in tow, galloped for several blocks, running over children and adults who sat and stood along the streets watching the parade in Bellevue.
Sandie Crilly, 46, of Willow Springs, Ill., said she was collecting Tootsie Rolls from the street with her 8-year-old son, 12-year-old niece and 2-year-old granddaughter when the horses ran toward them about halfway through the parade.
Someone yelled to get out of the way, she said.
“I could see it was two horses,” Crilly said. “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.”
Five people were critically injured, five others severely injured and 14 suffered minor injuries, police and fire officials said in a statement. The victims were as young as 2 years old and suffered injuries ranging from multiple fractures to collapsed lungs and abrasions, officials said.
The parade is a decades-long tradition in the town of about 2,300 people, located 25 miles south of Dubuque on the Iowa-Illinois border.
“The mood is shock and disbelief,” Bellevue Mayor Virgil Murray said. “We’ve had this parade forever. We’ve had horses in the parade forever.”
Crilly, who was visiting her parents in Bellevue, said someone pulled her granddaughter to safety, but her niece was left with a broken left wrist and had her two front teeth knocked out. Everyone else in their group suffered bumps and bruises, she said.
Paramedics treated victims in a nearby art gallery, Crilly said, 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. 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 pitched in, making phone calls and sending text messages to get word out that doctors and nurses were needed.
The injured were sent by ambulance and medical helicopter to hospitals in Dubuque, Maquoketa and Iowa City. Ten patients were taken to Mercy Medical Center-Dubuque, nine of them children, house supervisor Carol Dietzel said.
One child in critical condition was flown to University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, and another critically injured child was in surgery at Mercy Medical, she said. Six children were treated and released.
Officials at Finley Hospital in Dubuque said a 70-year-old woman in serious condition was flown to University of Iowa Hospital.
“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.”
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people attend the annual parade, many people coming in from rural areas and nearby towns, he said.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver released a statement, saying he was thinking and praying for the victims.
“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.
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