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CRASH HOSPITALIZES COACHMAN

By Fernanda Santos NYTimes January 4, 2006

The driver of a horse-drawn carriage remained hospitalized last night after his horse bolted on Monday, throwing him from his carriage and running into a car at a busy Midtown intersection, the police said.

At the end of a damp day when few tourists were taking carriage rides around Central Park, the driver, Carmelo Vargas, steered the horse and its empty carriage back toward a stable at 538 West 38th Street.

Around 9:30 p.m., as the carriage traveled south on Ninth Avenue, the white-and-brown pinto horse grew agitated and dashed away, throwing Mr. Vargas from the carriage, the police said. The horse, still pulling the carriage, then ran into a station wagon at Ninth and 50th Street, injuring the vehicle's driver and his son, according to the police.

Mr. Vargas was in critical condition at St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan, a spokeswoman, Maura Duffy, said. The horse broke a leg and had to be killed, the police said. Father and son were taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in stable condition on Monday night. The police said the car's driver had an expired inspection sticker.

No one knows for sure what set off the horse, but several animal experts agreed that the cause was probably an unusual noise. "Pintos are known as the family horse; they're very docile," said Darrell Bilke, executive vice president of the Pinto Horse Association of America. "But all it takes is a weird noise and a split-second reaction for an accident like that to unfold."

Mr. Vargas has been licensed to drive a horse-drawn carriage since May, said Dina Improta, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Consumer Affairs, which licenses horse-drawn carriages and their drivers. The carriage is registered to Lorenzo Riccobono, 58, of Gap, Pa., Ms. Improta said.

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