Bull-riding company said of fair incident: “The bull did nothing wrong. It was a freak accident.”
The owner of a bull that went on a wild run around the Dakota County Fair on Wednesday night felt so bad about the incident that he took it to the slaughterhouse Thursday.
“I felt terrible that people got hurt,” said Scott VanDerGeest, whose family owns Gold Medal Cattle Co. in Merrill, Wis. “That was a very expensive bull … out of a famous registered bull. We just felt the price of the bull wasn’t worth people getting hurt. He’s gone and that’s for sure.”
The VanDerGeests leased the bull, known as Tag 043, and others to Rice Bull Riding Co., which produced the show at the fair’s grandstand.
A day after the incident, nobody was quite clear on how Tag 043 escaped from the pen.
Nine people were injured, including sheriff’s deputy Matt Regis, who fired two shots at the 1,200-pound animal as it ran over him in the fairgrounds’ gravel parking lot. Regis was treated at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville and released. Barbara Goggins of Cottage Grove was taken by helicopter to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. She was in satisfactory condition Thursday, a spokeswoman said. Seven others were treated at the scene.
Dave Rice, owner of Rice Bull Riding, said a medic told him about 1 a.m. Thursday that Goggins had a cut on her head and had been hospitalized as a precaution.
“We all feel absolutely horrible about people being injured,” he said Thursday. “I have been involved with bull riding for over 20 years as both a bull rider and now producer, and I have never experienced anything like this.”
But Rice insisted that if spectators and deputies hadn’t chased the bull on foot and in ATVs, the professional bull roper hired to work the event could have had the animal under control in no time.
“The last thing you want to do is chase a bull,” Rice said. “My bull shagger was 20 feet from the bull when they fired. I thought it was pretty reckless.”
Regis told a slightly different story. He said he and his partner were patrolling the fairgrounds’ north parking lots in a golf cart when a call came in that a bull had escaped from the grandstand and was headed their way. When the bull was still about 200 yards away, they instructed gate operators to close the fairground gates.
When the bull came within 50 feet, Regis said, “I’m backing around the cart, drawing my weapon and have pretty much accepted that I’m going to have contact with this animal.
“At the point I fired, his head had made contact with my legs,” he added. “I can’t tell you where I left the ground and landed. It was a pretty hard land.”
Witnesses told Regis that the bull tossed him 5 to 10 feet, he said. He remembers seeing the bull’s back legs go up and over his head. He jumped up and began chasing the bull on foot across the parking lot, then stopping to help injured people.
“I had a pretty good adrenaline dump going on,” Regis said. “I didn’t start feeling the pain until an hour, hour and a half later.”
The joke making the rounds Thursday was that Regis must have been wearing a bull-proof vest. He was back at work Thursday, albeit on light duty, feeling “a little sore, but I’ll heal.”
Rice said the bull is normally fairly docile and is used in the rookie class for less experienced riders. It had been ridden — “bucked” — about 45 minutes earlier and was in a holding pen with food and water waiting to be loaded onto a trailer bound for its Wisconsin home.
Rice said he was directing activities in the arena Wednesday night and didn’t see the bull as it somehow managed to escape its pen. When people started chasing it, the animal jumped a fence that separates the arena from the rest of the fair.
“The bull did nothing wrong,” Rice said. “It was a freak accident.”
At a show Aug. 2 at the Washington County Fair, another bull escaped briefly when a bull rider got upset after being bucked off and neglected to secure the animal’s gate. The bull shagger had that bull roped and back in the pen in “20, maybe 30 seconds,” Rice said.
Sheriff’s Capt. Joe Leko, the fair’s chief for the week, said when Regis fired on the bull, “he was basically trying to save his own life — and others actually.”
“It was chaotic,” Leko said. “I’d like to say organized chaos, but it wasn’t.”
Regis said he knew the bullets he fired would go into the ground if they didn’t hit the bull. He insisted on seeing the bull after it was caught Wednesday night, and said he saw what appeared to be a .40-caliber bullet wound on the back of its neck.
VanDerGeest said the bull had a scrape on the back of the neck but he didn’t know whether it was from a bullet.
“My son said we should have kept him and called him Bullet,” he said.
Was the bull dangerous?
“No,” VanDerGeest said. “He was dangerous running down the midway. Any animal is.”
Had he known that, in the end, no one was seriously injured, VanDerGeest said, he probably wouldn’t have had the bull killed.
“But that’s what I decided to do,” he said. “It’s done, so let’s move on.”
Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284