Bullet bolts; skateboarder blamed


HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The owner of Bullet, the Clydesdale that bolted through crowded downtown Holland Thursday night and injured two people, doesn’t blame the horse.

He said the 8-year-old horse has given carriage rides for three years and is gentle.

“I wouldn’t allow my daughter to have him if he wasn’t gentle,” owner Dave Smallegan told 24 Hour News 8 on Friday.

He also doesn’t blame the carriage driver — his 19-year-old daughter Kellie Smallegan, who has handled horses all her life and has driven an eight-horse hitch team. She was one of the two people injured.

“What she did was correct,” he said “She kept him out of harm’s way for the circumstances that they were in.”

Instead, Dave Smallegan and Holland police blame a skateboarder who spooked Bullet. A witness said the skateboarder was riding on a sidewalk before jumping off a curb and into the street in front of the horse.

Signs all over downtown show it’s illegal to skateboard on the sidewalk.

“It’s the sudden rat-a-tat-tat of the skateboard wheels on the pavement doing the tricks and so forth,” Smallegan said. “It’s no different than if somebody slapped a two-by-four behind you right now on the floor. You’d probably jump.”

The incident was reported about 8:30 p.m. Thursday during Holland’s Street Performers series at Eighth Street and Central Avenue. Witnesses say crowds were gathered to watch street performers on several corners.

The horse and carriage, carrying a couple and their 3-year-old daughter, was stopped on the street.

Leah VanLangevelde was working outside when she saw the skateboarder, who appeared to be about 13 years old, cut in front of the horse, then continue on. That’s when the horse bucked.

“It’s just like full-on, like it’s hind legs were just up in the air and the rider was trying to like pull back,” VanLangevelde said. “She was like, ‘Whoa, whoa.’”

Many in the crowd ran to get away, witnesses said.

“Everybody was like screaming, everybody was like grabbing their kids,” VanLangevelde said.

Bullet bolted west on Eighth, then south on Central two blocks before the carriage crashed into a parked car.

A horse drawn carriage ran wild after the horse was spooked (ReportIt photo courtesy Will VerDuin; July 3, 2014).
A horse drawn carriage ran wild after the horse was spooked (ReportIt photo courtesy Will VerDuin; July 3, 2014).

At some point, police said, a 69-year-old Ionia woman was slightly injured when she was knocked to the ground. She was treated and released from Holland Hospital.

Bullet broke free from the carriage and kept running — with the driver being dragged behind. She suffered scrapes.

“She took one for the team, if that’s what you want to call it,” her father said. “She hung on and came off the front with him and tried to hang onto him even after he became dislodged from the carriage. She got dragged a little ways, I guess.”

The horse continued to College Avenue and ended up back on 8th Street. Officers and bystanders were able to stop the horse there.

Bullet suffered minor bumps.

“He seemed fine last night,” Smallegan said. “He’s out in the field with the rest of them.”

Smallegan said he hopes to keep giving rides in Holland, though he first must repair the broken carriage.

“People have been calling and hoping we’d come back and, hopefully, we can do that,” he said.

He’s not sure, though, if Bullet will return.

“I need to drive him around the farm for a while, just to make sure he’s not gun shy, but as far as I can see there’s no repercussions. A couple days, I think he’ll be back to himself again,” he said.

Officials are investigating and want to speak with the skateboarder. Anyone with information is asked to call 616.355.1737.

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