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49ers fan dies after run-in with horse

August 31, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

A 78-year-old San Francisco 49ers fan died early Saturday, seven hours after he was knocked to the ground by a runaway San Francisco police horse in the parking lot of Candlestick Park.

Eugene Caldwell was struck by the horse about 6 p.m. Friday after stepping out of a chartered bus to attend the 49ers game. Caldwell flew through the air and struck his head on the pavement. He died at 1 a.m. Saturday at San Francisco General Hospital.

The horse had become agitated when a plastic trash bag flew into its face and lodged in its bridle, said San Francisco Police Sgt. Neville Gittens. The horse flung its head back just as a police officer reached for the bag, striking the officer's head and knocking them both to the ground.

The horse stood and raced through the parking lot, without its officer. It first struck and injured a 47-year-old man before hitting Caldwell. A fan captured the horse and held it for officers. Gittens said the department is investigating the incident and has not decided whether the horse, named Seattle, will remain a member of its 10-horse mounted unit, which has a history dating to 1874.

Friday's game was the first time in several years that San Francisco police had used horses at a Candlestick Park sporting event, Gittens said. The horses provide officers a high vantage point to observe activity in the parking lot, he said.

Caldwell, called Bud since he was a child, was a retired Procter & Gamble employee who had served in the Air Force. He lived in Roseville, a Sacramento suburb, and had owned 49ers season tickets for about 20 years, said his sister-in-law, Kate Sutherland. He traveled to Friday's game with his son, David.

"He had a major heart attack in January. We didn't think he was going to make it, and then to die like this," Sutherland said. "He was at a place he loved to be, going to see those 49ers."

Caldwell's first wife died after a marriage that lasted more than 50 years. They had two children and several grandchildren. He married Sutherland's sister, Glenda, less than two years ago. He was active in the Roseville Historical Society and a model train club, loved to travel and was passionate about the 49ers, missing just two home games in the last 20 years.

An avid swimmer and gardener, Caldwell had remained active since retiring in 1980, Sutherland said.

"We're just fortunate it went as quickly as it did. He was never conscious. He never knew what hit him," Sutherland said. "It's hard to go through no matter what. We will all miss him so very, very much."

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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