Ranch owner says he wasn't notified of escaped horses

May. 15, 2014 @ 07:39 PM

While police say they helped corral horses from Jayell Ranch at about 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, the owner of the ranch says he wasn’t notified horses had escaped until hours later — after one of his horses caused a wreck that reportedly resulted in serious injuries for a local couple.

The collision reportedly left John Mahoney, of Gatlinburg, in critical condition at The University of Tennessee Medical Center. He and his wife, Vivian, were both taken there after the wreck, which killed the horse.

Wyatt Bunch, owner of the ranch, said he usually gets a call from authorities when his horses get out but he didn’t receive one Wednesday. He said that 13 horses had apparently escaped the ranch sometime earlier that morning.

“I had no call at all,” he said. “Anytime a horse is out I usually get a call. They got out and I don’t know what the police did.”

Bunch said he and his staff were devastated when they heard one of their horses had caused a wreck, and the heartache deepened when they heard it had caused serious injuries.

Pigeon Forge Police Chief Jack Baldwin said Thursday that he understood staff from the ranch had helped his officers corral the horses early Wednesday morning, but that he would talk to personnel from the night shift later to try to confirm that was the case.

Bunch said he’s reviewed surveillance footage from the ranch, and it shows him and the manager making sure the gates are closed at separate times before leaving. The gates aren’t visible from the cameras at night unless lights triggered by motion sensors are activated. In the video, when that happens shortly before 2 a.m., the gates are open, he said.

There are four people he couldn’t identify in the footage from around that time, but he said Friday he wasn’t sure if they were the people who helped the police or someone else.

“We’re trying to figure out who went there and opened (the gate),” he said.

Bunch said he’d talked to John Mahoney’s son since the wreck. “I was able to apologize to him,” he said. “He was real understanding of it just being an accident.”

The ranch has been closed since Thursday; Bunch new fences and gates have been put up, other changes have been made to try to make sure the horses can’t get out again.

“We’ve changed quite a few things,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure something like that can’t happen again.”

jfarrell@themountainpress.com