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CARRIAGE DRIVER IN COMA
By Dillon, LeMire, Moore, Colangelo and Vielkind Daily News, January 4, 2006

The horse-drawn carriage driver critically injured when his frightened horse bolted in midtown had long feared the unruly gelding would run wild.

But Carmello Vargas, a 36-year-old Bronx father, never complained - because he was more afraid of losing his job, his relatives said yesterday.

"All day, he told me the horses would run and were hard to stop," his wife, Maria Villanueva, told the Daily News yesterday as she kept prayerful watch over him at St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan in Greenwich Village.

"He was scared," she said.

Vargas, a former bagel shop worker, had little experience around horses, guiding the carriages along the city's crammed streets for barely eight months, his family said.

He quickly grew to fear the horse that bolted Monday night, a black-and-white gelding named Spotty.

"He had a problem with this horse," his stepson Anthony Villanueva, 15, said. "He rode a lot of the horses, but this one scared him."

Despite his concerns, Vargas refused to give up the job because of the good money he made working 12-hour shifts, six or seven days a week.

"He basically just started at this. He's an amateur," his stepson said. "He heard the money was pretty good and he wanted to provide for his family."

Vargas was listed in critical condition at the hospital. He had a fractured skull and was in a medically induced coma last night.

"It's bad," his wife said, her eyes watery from crying. "He has a tube in his throat. He doesn't see me. He's not talking to me. I'm mad. I'm scared."

Spotty suffered a broken leg and was euthanized late Monday after ejecting Vargas from the carriage and galloping several blocks before ramming into a station wagon at W. 50th St. and Ninth Ave.

No passengers were riding in the cab. Walter Garcia, 42, and his son, Misay, who were inside the car hit by Spotty at 9:30 p.m., were not seriously hurt.

Police were investigating what caused the horse to spook.

Vargas' daughter Yesel, 8, and son Edwin, 4, had not been told yesterday how he was injured.

"I hope my daddy's going to be okay," Yesel told The News, as her grandmother cared for her inside the family's Mott Haven apartment. "He's sleeping. I hope he comes home soon. I know Mommy's worried.:

The carriage involved in Monday's accident is registered to Lorenzo Riccobono, according to the city Consumer Affairs Department, which regulates the trade. He did not return calls.

The carriage is one of 68 licensed horse-drawn carriages in the city with 360 drivers registered to steer them, officials said.

Spotty's carcass was covered by a blue tarp at the West Side Livery Stables on W. 38th St. and hauled off to a crematorium yesterday afternoon.

Relatives said Vargas' brother, who is also a carriage driver, had encouraged him to become a hack.

Vargas wasn't scheduled to work Monday, but was asked to come in shortly before the bizarre accident.

"We're not rich," his stepson said. "He was trying to keep food on the table."

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