Lawmaker: Ban 'inhumane' transport

  • The interior of the trailer that crashed , killing at least 17 horses.

    The interior of the trailer that crashed , killing at least 17 horses.

Published: 11/4/2007 11:48 PM | Updated: 11/5/2007 9:07 AM

In the week since a truck packed with 59 horses flipped in Lake County, killing at least 17 horses and injuring dozens more, the public has mourned.

Local, state and federal authorities have investigated.

Horse lovers -- here and across the nation -- have mobilized to help and raise awareness.

And now lawmakers are taking action.

The crash on Oct. 27 along Route 41 in Wadsworth flipped a double-decker semitrailer -- a method of transporting horses that's illegal in four states, but not Illinois. The draft horses were en route from an auction in Indiana to Minnesota, when their truck driver ran a red light and struck a pickup truck, causing the trailer to overturn.

It took about five hours to pull the horses from the trailer. Rescuers, including firefighters, veterinarians and local horse owners, described a scene of chaos and horror as the frightened animals kicked and screamed.

"I think it is a horrible way of transporting horses, for whatever purpose they were moving them for," said state Rep. JoAnn Osmond. "It is very inhumane, and not OK at all."

On Thursday, the Antioch Republican filed House Bill 4162, which would amend the Humane Care for Animals Act to say no person may transport horses in a vehicle or trailer that has two or more levels. Violators would be guilty of a class C misdemeanor and fined $500 per animal for the first offense and $1,000 per animal for subsequent offenses.

Osmond said she believes she will get support for the proposal.

If she's right, Illinois will join Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts in outlawing double-decker horse trailers. Connecticut, Virginia and Minnesota regulate the way animals are transported.

Chris Berry, president of the Equine Protection Network, worked for five years to get double-decker horse trailers outlawed in her native Pennsylvania. She said the crash in Lake County makes it the perfect time for Illinois lawmakers to push for stricter guidelines.

"The Wadsworth double-deck wreck can be the case that provides the justification for an Illinois Horse Transport Law," Berry said.

If legislators move forward with a revised horse transportation law, they will likely have the support of at least one Lake County group. The stricter Illinois rules are expected to receive the endorsement of the Lake County Farm Bureau.

Gregory G. Koeppen, manager of the Lake County Farm Bureau, said when his board meets Nov. 14, he anticipates horse transportation will be one of the topics discussed.

"I would be very surprised if we did not take some action to help move legislation forward," Koeppen said. "Unfortunately, sometimes it takes an incident like this to get legislation to the forefront of people's minds."

But stable owner Scott Golladay of Antioch said lawmakers should look at all of the consequences before making changes.

Because every U.S. horse slaughterhouse has closed down, horse owners now are forced to go sell their horses to companies in Mexico and Canada.

"I'm not in favor of double-deckers, but it becomes an economic decision," he said. "Some of these horsemen try to cram as many into a truck as they can because they have to travel so far."

Cavel International in DeKalb was the last remaining horse slaughter plant in the country when it was shut down Sept. 21.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act is awaiting a vote in Congress. If passed, it would make it permanently illegal to slaughter horses in the United States.

"As much as I love horses, I believe federally maintained slaughterhouses are a necessity," he said. "If local slaughterhouses were open, transportation wouldn't present economic pressure to jam and cram horses into a double-decker.

"I'm not in favor of double-deckers at all. I just think there are a lot of things that need to be considered."

State Rep. Ed Sullivan said regardless of the reason, nearly 60 horses on one trailer is a disaster waiting to happen, not only for the animals, but for drivers and passengers in other vehicles.

"I can't imagine why anybody would be transporting horses in a double-decker," said the Mundelein Republican. "It is unfathomable for someone to think it is remotely appropriate."

Veterinarian Gary Koeler said he had assumed Illinois law already banned double-decker trailers for hauling horses -- until the crash on Oct. 27.

Koeler, who responded to the Wadsworth crash, said he recognizes that if the stricter rules are approved, they'll be tough to enforce.

"Getting something on the books will at least give someone a little more authority if they do catch someone," he said. "If you crawled into that trailer that night, you would never want to do it again."