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Bull was spooked by being chased

Capturing a spooked bull is a tricky process, as many well-meaning people found out at the Dakota County Fair last week.

When the 1,200 pound bull that escaped from a pen during the Bulls and Barrels event at the grandstand Aug. 7, an estimated 20 to 30 people chased the animal in an effort to get it to stop. Rice Bull Riding Company owner Dave Rice appreciates the attempt to help, but he said the attempts only spooked the bull more.

"You never, ever, ever chase a bull," Rice said. "I think they tried their best to help, but if everybody would have just stayed back and not run toward the bull, we would have been able to bring him in without anybody getting hurt."

The rodeo company has employees who are trained to round up bulls, Rice said. They're called pickup men, and they train with the bulls. They ride horses, because horses are faster than bulls. The bulls are used to horses and the pickup men, and the pickup men know how to handle bulls.

Ultimately, it was the rodeo's pickup man who roped the bull and led him into a trailer.

Rice is thankful Dakota County sheriff's deputies were there to assist with the crowd control, and to help clear fairgoers from the bull's path. However, he is critical of deputy Matthew Regis, who fired shots at the bull as it ran though the fairgrounds.

"Shooting at a bull with a pistol is not a good idea. You're not going to kill it. You're just going to make it worse," Rice said. "But they did what they thought they should do."

Dakota County sheriff Dave Bellows admits that while the county deputies train for a multitude of incidents, rounding up an escaped bull is not one of those scenarios.

"I've been in this profession 34 years, and this was my first bull call," Bellows said. "This was a highly unusual event."

Controlling the bull while it was within the confines of the arena was the rodeo's responsibility, Bellows said. Once that bull broke through the fence and ran out into the fairgrounds, it became the county's responsibility.

County deputies tried to create a line to keep the bull from reaching the public, Bellows said. Bellows believes that was Regis' intent when the deputy shot twice at the bull.

"He came after Deputy Regis. That's when the deputy tried to bring him down with two shots. Unfortunately, a bull isn't going to be brought down by a couple of shots, but he did what he could," Bellows said.

The shots were fired at close range, Bellows said. In handgun training, deputies are trained to assess the backdrop — that is, where the bullets might strike — and in this instance, Regis told Bellows he was certain the bullets struck the bull. Photos taken of the bull afterward showed evidence of blood on the animal, which leads deputies to believe the bullets hit the bull.

Bellows has been in contact with Rice since the incident, and both have their own feelings on how the scenario was handled.

"Frankly, his ability to confine the bull (within the arena) is his responsibility. Once it leaves that area, it becomes our responsibility. If we would have done nothing, that bull would have injured many more people," Bellows said.

"Given the number of people who were out there, our intervention was swift and effective. Given the size of this bull and the number of people out there, I think we did a good job," Bellows added.

A few of the 20 to 30 people who were chasing the bull were deputies, Bellows said, but several of them were also affiliated with the rodeo. While Rice acknowledges that several were with the rodeo, he still did not know who many of the people were who tried to stop the bull.

That speaks to a security issue of his own, that he plans to address with his employees: that from now on, only his employees and the rodeo contestants are allowed near the pens and the arena. All unauthorized individuals will be prohibited from the arena area.

"I don't know how many people were in the back, but they just caused a lot more problems. That's not the fair's fault," Rice said. "Normally we don't do the security, but from now on we'll have to step it up ourselves."

Rice is still not sure why the latch on the bull's pen gave way. He said his staff is still looking into what could have caused it to open and allow the bull to escape.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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