The accident scene. © Scott Graham
A horse spooked and bolted into traffic on Central Park South, prompting senator Avella to call upon Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to take immediate action to ban the horse-drawn carriage industry.
A tourist from North Carolina, Philip Powell, notified the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages (who in turn notified Avella's office) that he and his wife were walking by the carriage horse hack line on Central Park South at 11pm - not far from Columbus Circle - when one of the horses spooked and charged into traffic - running west before he made a u-turn on the congested street - dragging the empty carriage behind him. The horse then ran east on Central Park South and turned into the park at 7th Avenue where he crashed.
Powell was fairly close to the horse when he noticed him jerk his head upright and then bolt into traffic. He said it was quiet at the time. "It's an absolute miracle that the horse and no pedestrians were seriously hurt," Powell said. "The entire incident happened so fast and was extremely shocking. The horse took off at top speed and could not be stopped. He could have easily trampled a pedestrian."
When Powell and his wife finally caught up with the horse, they saw an overturned, damaged carriage at the intersection of West and Center Drive, just off Seventh Avenue.
"When we arrived, the horse was standing, but trapped in the gear. Several men tried to free him. They eventually left after a man led the horse away and some other men were cleaning up the broken carriage.
"The police arrived, joining what appeared to be a dark unmarked car with officials asking the crowds to get back."
Another eye witness, New Yorker Scott Graham, who was returning home from dinner, saw the end of the crash.
"The spooked horse ran as fast as he could into oncoming traffic, narrowly missing a few taxis," he said.
"The horse tried to careen into Central Park at the 7th Ave. entrance, but skid, hit the curb and flipped with the carriage, falling to the ground on his side. The horse then got up and ran off again into the park, with the empty carriage still attached.
"An unmarked cop car followed and I showed it where to go. It turned out the horse crashed again into a curb. He seemed fine but tangled in the harness. They were trying to cu him out of the tangle. The carriage was in pieces. It was the scariest incident I have seen since coming to New York."
Mary Culpepper, board member of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, said that as prey animals, horses are unpredictable and can spook at the slightest provocation.
"It did not have to be a loud noise. It could have been a shadow, an odd shape or rustling leaves that terrified him and caused him to run from the source of his fear.
"No horse is unspookable," she said. "This accident is consistent with what is known about the nature of a horse."
Coalition president Elizabeth Forel said that if it had not been for "two vigilant and caring tourists and a New Yorker, the public would not have learned about this accident".
"We suspect there are many more accidents like this that get covered up and not reported. Horses are prey animals and nervous, by their very nature. Running from what he perceived to be a danger, he became an unwitting weapon as he tore into traffic. It is fortunate that he did not get killed or kill anyone in his panicked flight," Forel said.