Det. Sgt. Craig Gump almost had them. Almost.
When the call went out Friday morning from Meadville Police Department’s dispatch desk that a horse and buggy team was headed down North Street without a driver, officers sprang into action.
Gump, who had been working at the station, was running to Car 19 in the parking lot when he got his first sight of the team crossing North Cottage Street and heading toward Meadville’s Diamond Park on Walnut Street, just a block from the station. When he heard they had turned south at the Diamond, he stopped the car at West Center Street and the Diamond and jumped out.
“I got in front of it trying to stop them,” Gump recalled. He yelled “Whoa!” about five times to no avail. Then he reached for the reins and missed — and then tried to hop into the wagon. Hearing his wife’s voice in his head saying, “Get out of the way, dummy,” as he chased the wagon on foot, he eventually listened and headed back to Car 19.
“Their heads were down and I knew they weren’t stopping,” Gump said, noting that what had been a trot stepped up to a canter when the horses turned onto the Diamond. “They really took off.”
At around 10:05 a.m., Sgt. Kevin Lippincott was out on the streets training a new recruit.
“We were at the Downtown Mall when we got the call,” Lippincott recalled. “I was expecting to see an Amish buggy, because just ‘horse and buggy’ was what the call was.”
His trainee, Alex Kipp, was on his fourth or fifth day on the street — and probably his third time driving.
“We turned the corner on Water Street and we both just kind of stared at it for a second,” Lippincott continued. What they saw was a team of two horses — Haflingers, a sturdy breed dating back to Europe’s middle ages — pulling a massive 12-foot-long, brilliant blue show wagon.
Lippincott and Kipp weren’t the only ones taken by surprise. Conneaut Lake Elementary School student Landyn Byler, 7, was so struck by what he saw while in town with his mom, Deanna Griggs-Byler, that he captured the scene in crayon. With Landyn commenting “This is what happens on a sunny day,” the drawing was dropped off at the Tribune Friday afternoon.
Senior project day
The horses and wagon were in Meadville Friday morning to participate in Meadville Area Senior High School’s senior project day. The wagon was senior Ryan Anderson’s project and the horses had been brought from their home in Polk to help with the presentation by his aunt and uncle, Barbara and Thomas Anderson.
According to Sgt. Mike Tautin, the department’s school safety and public information officer, the final piece of Ryan’s presentation involved bringing his advisors out and giving them a ride around the back of the school. However, as he was giving the indoors part of the presentation, something spooked the horses.
His aunt, who had been holding them, got pinned up between a sign and the horses, Tautin explained. “They bowled her over and just took off.”
Barbara Anderson was transported to Meadville Medical Center and then flown to UPMC Hamot in Erie, where she was admitted in fair condition. Thomas Anderson was not available for comment.
While it was an unfortunate incident, “It was a graduation project, which are great things,” Superintendent Charlie Heller of Crawford Central School District said Friday afternoon. “The student was just displaying something he was quite proud of. We’ve had numerous animals, even horses, be part of graduation projects in the past and there’s never been a problem. Graduation projects are great learning experiences.”
The chase is on
Horses and officers passed at the corner of Water and North — horses headed south, police headed north.
With direction quickly reversed and Lippincott behind the wheel, the cruiser headed south on Water. “At about Walnut, we had a father and son driving a black vehicle decide they were going to pull their vehicles in front of the horses to try to stop it,” Lippincott said.
Instead of bringing them to a stop, however, the move directed the horses onto Walnut Street.
While the animals didn’t appear to run into anything and seemed to come through the adventure in fine shape, according to officers at the scene, the wagon they were pulling crashed into four vehicles and a sign as it snaked back and forth, throwing sparks on the pavement as it went. The first hit was sustained by the black vehicle near the Walnut Street intersection.
With drivers and pedestrians scattering, the horses continued along Walnut past the fire station and across Park Avenue. After making the turn onto the Diamond and evading Gump, they proceeded along the west side of the park before successfully negotiating the passage across Chestnut Street and on to South Main. The wagon, on the other hand, struck a vehicle parked in front of 916 Diamond Park, took out the stop sign at the Arch Street intersection and hit two cars parked in front of 1112 and 1134 South Main.
As the procession proceeded along South Main, plans for a felony stop, where police strategically position cruisers to slow down and eventually bring a suspect driver to a stop, came together. “Now it’s called a horse stop,” Chief Dave Stefanucci joked.
In this case, the horses were “corralled” by police vehicles driven by Lippincott, Gump, Tautin, who had been leaving the station to deliver some materials to Cochranton Junior-Senior High School when the call came in, Nick Mogel, who was in the vicinity of the high school at time and transported one of the people who actually caught the reins to the scene, and Stefanucci, who encountered the procession while traveling into town.
“Those horses didn’t have a chance,” Stefanucci said.
As the horses started to slow, Meadville resident Bruce Bickle ran into the street and grabbed the reins of one. Seconds later, another local resident, Ryan Pude, ran in from the other side and grabbed the reins of the second. Within seconds, the chase was over.
By 11 a.m., the horses and wagon had been trucked from the scene and officers were retracing the trail searching for damaged vehicles.
Meadville police were assisted by West Mead Township Police Department.
Editor's note: The video at right was provided by the Meadville Police Department and edited by the Tribune.