Relatives of a Sacramento man who was killed after being trampled by a runaway police horse outside Candlestick Park have sued The City and the San Francisco 49ers in what the family’s lawyer said will be a multimillion-dollar case.
Eugene Caldwell, 78, was killed Aug. 30, 2008, when a spooked police horse threw off its mounted officer and ran frantically into a crowd gathered outside the stadium to attend a preseason 49ers game.
The horse was apparently startled after a plastic bag whipped up by the wind became caught in its bridle. As the animal tried to shake the bag loose, it fell backward and lost its veteran rider before taking off across a parking lot and knocking down Caldwell.
In the wake of the incident, Caldwell’s wife, Glenda, and his two children, David and Vicki, filed a lawsuit against The City and the 49ers on claims including wrongful death, personal injury, dangerous conditions of public property and emotional distress.
“This wasn’t some completely random accident,” said Christopher Dolan, the family’s lawyer. “This man was killed by a police horse, a horse that was trained by the very people who were supposed to protect him.”
The equestrian officer — a 28-year Police Department veteran who had 10 years experience with the mounted unit — was contracted out by the 49ers under The City’s 10B administrative code.
That essentially means he was working security for the team. The football franchise will face the lawsuit on its own, clearing The City from any potentially large payouts, according to Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office.
The lawsuit against the 49ers is still in its early stages. The monetary request will be in the “multimillion-dollar range,” Dolan said.
“The family is devastated,” he said. “The son, David, witnessed his dad’s death. He held his father in his arms while he died.”
Bob Lange, a spokesman for the 49ers, said the team was working diligently toward a resolution.
Dolan said he will ask if the horse, named Seattle, had exhibited similar behavior before the August incident. He also plans to request the Police Department’s training procedures and manuals for mounted police officers, and training records for the officer riding the horse.
Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Lyn Tomioka said the officer, whose name has not been released, and Seattle are still with the mounted unit, although the horse is not used on an active basis. The department has no plans to euthanize the horse, Tomioka said.
Eugene Caldwell was a ardent football fan who loved the 49ers, and during his 21 years as a season-ticket holder he missed only two home games.
“Going to 49ers games was such a special family thing for dad,” said Vicki Caldwell, his daughter. “We had two seats, so at first he rotated between my brother David and I. Then, when the grandkids came in, he would take them as well.”
Caldwell, a Massachusetts native, came to California in 1950 with the Air Force. He met wife Glenda while stationed near Sacramento and opted to stay.
Along with being an avid 49ers fan, he volunteered at the local museum historical society, liked bowling and was a model-railroad enthusiast, Vicki Caldwell said.
He retired from Proctor & Gamble in 1989.
“He was just an all-around well-loved man who is missed so much,” Vicki Caldwell said.