Sandie Crilly was helping her 8-year-old son, 12-year-old niece and 2-year-old granddaughter pick up Tootsie Rolls from the ground during Bellevue’s annual Fourth of July parade when someone yelled to get out of the way.
Looking up, she saw two 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, and one woman was killed, police and hospital officials said.
Janet Steines of Spragueville, whose husband was driving the carriage, died Sunday evening at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, according to the Hachmann Funeral Home in Bellevue.
The horses got spooked after they rubbed heads and one’s bridle fell off, police said. They galloped for several blocks through downtown Bellevue, a town of about 2,300 residents along the Iowa-Illinois border. The wagon overturned at some point, dumping its four passengers.
Many of the injured were children like Crilly’s niece who were picking up candy from the street that had been tossed to them.
Most of the injured were treated at hospitals and released, but at least four people remained in critical condition late Sunday and several others were seriously hurt, according to police and hospital officials.
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.”
Mayor Virgil 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.”
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people attend the parade, many people coming in from rural areas and nearby towns, he said.
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.
Two children in critical condition was flown to University of Iowa Hospital, and one was in fair condition at Mercy Medical, a hospital official said. Seven children were treated and released.
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.