OKEECHOBEE — Nine horses were killed early Tuesday morning on U.S. 441, after one was struck by an unknown vehicle and eight others were hit by a semi.
The accidents occured near the 38000 block of U.S. 441 North around 1:30 a.m. according to the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office accident report.
According to the OCSO report, a semi truck was traveling northbound on U.S. 441 North when a herd of horses ran directly into the path of the vehicle. The driver attempted to lock his brakes but was unable to avoid impact with the horses. Eight horses were struck and killed or fatally wounded due to the impact. The driver was not injured in the crash and refused medical attention at the scene.
No mention was made in the OCSO report of a ninth horse which was hit three miles away in front of the horse farm.
Dr. Karie Vander Werf of Treasure Coast Equine Emergency Services responded to the call at approximately 2:30 a.m. When she was called, the owners told her eight of the horses were already dead and one needed stitches.
They were still trying to catch other horses that were running loose.
It is believed that some of the horses died upon impact, she said. The farm owner had to put three of the horses down before she arrived, because they were too far gone and were suffering.
“It sounds horrible, but it’s instant, and they were suffering. It’s better than waiting an hour for me to drive there,” she said.
The horse originally reported as needing stitches turned out to be in much worse shape than they thought, and she had to euthanize that one as well.
When the veterinarian arrived, the owners had already caught two horses and put them back on the farm and they were still trying to catch three more. One of the horses had superficial scrapes and should be fine, she said. The other four horses were unscathed.
All together, 14 horses had escaped their paddock, all 2-year-olds. The owner’s daughter posted on Facebook that she believes the horses were spooked and chased by a predator of some kind.
“I’m not sure how they are determining that, but certainly, anything is going to spook a 2-year-old,” said Vander Werf. “Then they just busted the fences and got out.”
One of the horses was hit right in front of the farm, and the rest of the herd was hit about three miles down the road from the farm. As far as Vander Werf knows, there were no human injuries, but she does not know who hit the first horse and thought it might have been a hit and run.
Vander Werf said it was very foggy when she arrived at the scene.
This is the second incident teh emergecy equine veterinarian has responded to this year where horses have been hit by vehicles at night.