Trailer Accident Investigators Consider Charges

State, local, and federal investigators are putting their heads together to determine whether the driver of the semitrailer hauling 59 horses involved in a Oct. 27 rollover accident in Wadsworth, Ill., will face additional charges in connection with the incident. Seventeen of the horses aboard the double-decker trailer died or had to be euthanatized as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. Until the officials' final determination is made, those close to the probe are unwilling to speculate about what kinds of charges might be pressed in the case.

"There are some things in the law that we're looking at," said Mark Ernst, DVM, Illinois state veterinarian. "For example, we want to make sure the transport was done legally. "

There is no law prohibiting the transport of horses in double-decker trailers on Illinois' books, Ernst said. A federal law forbids horses being transported directly to slaughter from riding in double-deckers, but does not cover horses transported for other reasons.

Even so, Christine Berry, founder of the Equine Protection Network, a group that advocates national uniformity in horse transportation legislation, said she hopes Illinois prosecutors will peruse the state's animal cruelty statues while considering this incident.

"Illinois may not have a transportation law that prohibits double-decker transport, but they do have anti-cruelty laws that prohibit cruelty during shipment," Berry said.

Illinois anti-cruelty statues forbid the confinement of an animal in a way that places it in a life- or health-threatening situation. However, that section of Illinois law speaks specifically to exposure to extreme heat or cold.

"The question is would the trailer have tipped over if it wasn't a double-decker?" asked Leslie Szalla, DVM, who was among the attending veterinarians at the accident scene and has observed the horses' recovery. "The transport of horses can't go on like this."

Authorities conducting the probe will look at the drivers' logs, which attest to how far the truck had traveled, how long the driver was behind the wheel preceding the accident, whether he made required stops at weigh stations along his route, and whether or not the trailer's weight exceeded applicable regulations.

According to Sgt. Christopher Thompson, public information officer for the Lake County Sheriff's Department, the Illinois Department of Agriculture is leading the investigation into those safety-related issues.

Exactly when or what kind of additional charges will be filed remains uncertain. Steve Sheller, chief of the Lake County, Ill. State's Attorney's Office Felony Review Division was unavailable on Thursday (Nov. 1) to comment on the case.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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