CLINTON — A crash Sunday in Clinton involving a horse-drawn wagon that sent at least three people to the hospital occurred as one of the horses became agitated by an insect bite, police said.

The horse shook its head and broke its bridle before tearing off about 200 yards down the street with four people in the wagon.

“It was a freak accident — it really was,” Clinton police Officer Phil DiLuca, who responded to the crash, said Monday. “There were two large horses carrying a large wagon, and the horse started to get upset. I think it was getting bit by a fly or something like that, and it shook its head, and the bridle broke.

“The driver stepped off (the wagon) to try to repair it, and the horse got upset, and it just took off.”

Some original reports said that a loud noise spooked the horses, causing the driver to lose control of them, but DiLuca said that’s inaccurate.

“After the wagon hit the telephone pole, it then hit the car and bounced off the car and hit another telephone pole before coming to rest in the middle of the street,” DiLuca said.

The crash occurred around 7:30 p.m. on Water Street, which is off Main and Pleasant streets in downtown Clinton, he said.

DiLuca said the wagon driver was a man, and the passengers were all female. The horses were not injured and were led to a trailer soon after the crash, according to DiLuca.

“Unfortunately, four people sustained injury,” he said.

A horse-drawn wagon is seen after crashing Sunday in Clinton, an incident that police said sent at least three people to the hospital. Contributed photo

One passenger was taken by LifeFlight helicopter in critical condition to a hospital DiLuca believed to be Maine Medical Center in Portland, though he was not certain; another was taken to a hospital DiLuca thought was in Waterville; a third was hospitalized in the Bangor area. DiLuca said he has not yet been able to reach the fourth passenger to see if she got checked out at a hospital, though he did see her at the scene.

“I talked to her briefly, and she said she was OK,” he said.

DiLuca would not release the names of the driver or the females in the wagon, nor would he release information about their injuries other than to say there were “several broken bones and lacerations.”

“We’ve been asked to respect their privacy,” he said, adding that the victims’ families asked that information not be released.

Water Street is a short, quiet residential street that connects Main and Pleasant streets and runs along the scenic Sebasticook River. There are only three driveways on Water street, and one belongs to Ruth Mattson.

Mattson said that, after the crash, she walked outside with her 13-year-old daughter, and the crumpled wagon was lying across the street from where her driveway ends.

“The wagon was completely no good,” she said.

Police, rescue workers, firefighters and sheriff’s officials were everywhere, according to Mattson. An older woman was lying, face down, in the road by a house diagonally across the street, she said, pointing to a pool of blood on which sand had been spread.

Another older woman was lying nearby on the grass by the house. Both were conscious.

“By the time I came out, they had put towels under their heads,” Mattson said.

Mattson said the wagon belongs to a local family that gives rides to family and friends, and it had just stopped on Main Street so passengers could get ice cream. Just after the wagon turned onto Water Street, the horse went out of control, she said, motioning to places where bushes were torn up along the street.

A short distance away, Mattson pointed to a utility pole with a chunk of wood missing at its base. She said that is where the wagon struck the pole and the two older women were ejected. On the opposite side of the street, a flatbed truck had just picked up a vehicle, according to Mattson. DiLuca said a truck driver from Blanchard’s Towing & Repair, in Clinton, was the first person at the scene, and he called 911 when the crash occurred.

After ejecting the women, Mattson said, the wagon struck a car parked on the same side of the street as the flatbed — a car owned by the daughter of a woman who lives there. The car was damaged by the impact, she said.

“The car was scuffed, and the light was broken,” Mattson said. “She had just gotten a paint job done on part of it.”

People came out of their homes to help, including an EMT for Clinton Fire Department, according to Mattson.

A woman who lives in the house near where the two women were ejected had just completed a CPR class, and she also came out of her house to help, Mattson said.

Two other passengers were with the wagon after it struck the second pole, according to Mattson.

“One woman was pinned in the front part of the wagon but managed to get herself out,” she said. “She refused treatment initially, and people tried to convince her to go to the hospital. She collapsed after that. She was going to get checked out. One other woman appeared to have no injuries, that I’m aware of.”

She said the horses were detached from the wagon and eventually led into a trailer.

“There were a lot of people out here,” Mattson said. “Some of the family heard it on the scanner and stuff, so they came to check on family.”

She said the people who were in the wagon are local townspeople, and she does not know all of their names. The horse owners are well-known, according to Mattson.

“They run the horses through town annually,” she said. “Every year, they stroll through a little bit. The horses are gorgeous. They have bells jingling as they go down the road. It’s so nostalgic.”

Mattson, who has lived on Water Street for three years, said she directed her daughter away from the crash scene, as it was both frightening and sad, and emergency workers were busy taking care of the injured.

“It was scary,” she said. “Everyone was on their toes. Everybody was great.”

The Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the crash, and Clinton police are assisting the office, according to DiLuca.

He said a Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office deputy happened to be in the area and was the first emergency worker to arrive at the scene.

“They just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” DiLuca said. “They were right there — boom. We got there within a couple of minutes.”

Calls placed Monday to the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office seeking comment and more information about those injured, including names and ages, were not returned.

A smashed utility pole on Water Street in Clinton is seen Monday after a horse-drawn wagon hit it the previous night. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

DiLuca said the car the wagon struck was parked in a driveway on Water Street. The car had minor damage from the crash, he said.

“The telephone pole sustained a lot more damage,” he said. “It is going to have to be replaced.”

He said Central Maine Power was notified of the pole damage and had planned to replace it Monday or Tuesday. The second pole does not require replacement, he said.

DiLuca said a lot of debris was scattered on the roadway from the crash, and townspeople helped to clean it up. He confirmed it was not an Amish wagon, describing it, rather, as like those used to transport people at fairs.

“Everyone worked together very well,” he said. “Everyone was concerned and trying to help as much as they could.”

DiLuca was the third official to arrive. He said the Clinton Fire Department responded to the scene, as did several ambulances.

No charges are being filed in the crash, according to DiLuca.

“This was just a freak accident and a weird series of events,” he said.

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