Double-Decker Disaster Leaves 17 of 42 Horses Dead

A truck carrying 42 horses bound for slaughter overturned early Sept. 27 on Interstate 44 in Franklin County, Mo. Seventeen horses died immediately or were later euthanatized due to extensive injuries, and the remaining 24 horses and a hinny are in the care of area veterinarians and the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO), which directed the rescue effort at the scene. The HSMO is currently trying to obtain custody of the animals from the horse owner's insurance company.

The shipment, which included animals from yearlings to 20-year-olds, originated in Oklahoma and was headed for the Cavel International processing plant in DeKalb, Ill. Sgt. Al Nothum of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department public information office explained the driver, Richard Facinelli, was "working for the horses' owner," he said. "His wife basically fell asleep in the passenger seat in his lap, and when she woke up, she jerked his arm and it caused (the crash). It was kind of a freak accident, and unfortunately, the horses paid the price."

At 3:15 a.m., the HSMO's Longmeadow Rescue Ranch Director Earlene Cole received a call from the Franklin County Sheriff's office about the overturned trailer. Cole, who served as incident commander, assembled a team of veterinarians and rescue personnel who arrived on the scene shortly after 4:00 a.m.

"The whole scene was horrific," said Stuart Robson, DVM, of Fox Creek Veterinary Clinic, who was the first veterinarian at the scene. "It was dark, first of all, and the trailer was on its side in the middle of I-44. The first thing I did was climb up on top of the trailer, and I borrowed a flashlight and I looked down in each of the compartments of the double-decker semi-trailer. Horses were piled on top of each other, there was blood everywhere...

"Some of the horses were standing, most of them were down, and a lot of them were injured very badly," he continued. "These trailers, they're made for cattle, the (ceilings) are very low, and they're very wide, and you can imagine with the trailer on its side, the room becomes very tall and very narrow, so all the horses were thrown on top of each other--it was horrendous."

With the trailer's side ventilation holes on the ground, horses were getting their hooves and legs caught. At one point, Robson climbed over a "tangle of horses" to get to two very agitated and painful animals that required euthanasia, and he fell, his own foot slipping between the down animals, and he lost a shoe through a hole. A firefighter had to help him out of the pile.

The rescuers removed the horses a compartment at a time. Those horses that were able to walk out did so fairly calmly as most were in shock. Robson said many of the down horses were easily slid out on trailer mats and rescue slides. "These horses were basically covered in sweat, urine, and blood. It was pretty easy to slide them out," he said. Veterinarians and caretakers stabilized the horses at the scene and sent them in waiting trailers to the nearby St. Clair Saddle Club, where in an outdoor arena, four veterinary clinics' personnel triaged the animals.

Since then, the animals have trickled back to Longmeadow Rescue Ranch, where they are being cared for by volunteers. Common injuries include cuts, lacerations, contusions, eye injuries, and pressure sores from supporting the weight of other animals as they waited for rescue. Some horses have had neurologic deficits from the pressure placed on their spinal cords.

Cavel said in a statement that Facinelli was taken into custody on outstanding warrants (Sgt. Nothum confirmed the driver had unpaid traffic tickets in other states), and that he allegedly had been in violation of USDA transportation regulations. Facinelli posted $260 bond and was set free. It is not clear at press time what USDA regulations Facinelli had violated. Double-decker trailers--also called "possum-belly" trailers--are to be phased out and illegal for transport of horses to slaughter by Dec. 7.

Jeane Jae, HSMO's director of communications, said, "This was just a horse lover's worst nightmare, but we're just extremely gratified by the support (of various organizations and groups). Some of these are very nice horses that will be highly adoptable. We're really looking forward to working with these horses and making them available for adoption. In the meantime, bills for the horses have risen to more than $50,000."

"The only bright side of this...is how many horses lived through this accident," Robson said. "If you could've been there on top of that trailer when I first got there, you would've thought there wasn't any way to save these horses. Somehow, everyone was able to pitch together and get them out."

For more information see www.TheHorse.com/emag.aspx?id=7970. Jae said she hoped to announce the society had obtained custody of the animals the week of Oct. 30. For more information on supporting these horses, visit www.hsmo.org or call 314/951-1542.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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