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Bert Bonnett and Cassie before Dec. 4 streetside accident.

Bert Bonnett and Cassie before Dec. 4 streetside accident.

LOS ANGELES – A traffic-related incident that resulted in a euthanized mare and a shaken 100-year-old equestrian has galvanized the community to appeal use of storm grates termed unsafe.

On Dec. 4, a car driving on Wheatland Avenue reportedly brushed Bert Bonnett on his Tennessee Walker, Cassie, and spooked her to a curb that had been outfitted with a type of storm drain designed to prevent large debris from entering run-off. Bonnett, who was thrown into the street, survived. The mare, however, became trapped in the curbside debris screen and did not survive the ordeal despite valiant efforts by volunteers and emergency personnel, including Rene Herrera, founder of the Foothill Mounted Patrol and a city firefighter who responded.

The accident scene Dec. 4.

The accident scene Dec. 4.

“This is a tragic loss,” said Herrera. “This is a wake-up call to say, `let’s get some trails set aside’. They (storm drains) should be modified so a kid or a horse cannot be trapped.”

Three weeks after his fall, the century-old Bonnett, who has tended his Shadow Hills ranch for 76 years, admits he longs for Cassie.

“God, I miss her,” he said of the horse he had raised. “She was one of the best horses I ever had.”

The incident had sparked equestrians’ concern about the safety of animals and children amid the thousands of screens being affixed to storm drain openings across Los Angeles to prevent trash from flowing out to sea. It also has renewed calls for roadway riding trails etched decades ago in master plans.

The debris screen that trapped Cassie with its sharp edges was among 46,000 catch basin screens installed in response to a federal order to keep trash from local water ways. The perforated screens, which remain closed over storm drain openings during dry weather, block refuse from entering from the street. When it rains, however, the screens flap open to allow more water to flow down the drains.
Critics say slippery grates can cause people or animals to skid into the screens, whose sharp edges can trap arms or legs like a tin-can lid can trap a finger.

Los Angeles public works officials stand behind the screens as being safe.

“No reports of accidents related to the catch basin screen mechanism has been received by the Bureau of Sanitation until this one,” said bureau Assistant Director Adel Hagekhalil. “This rare incident has initiated discussions between the bureau and the office of Councilman (Paul) Krekorian to consider possible solutions to the residents’ concerns.”

The $65.6 million system, approved by the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board, was paid for by a voter-approved Proposition O Clean Water bond.

The Bureau of Sanitation asks residents to report problems with catch basin screens by calling 311, or 800/974-9794.

More details of this incident can be read in the January Equestrian Trails Inc. Newsletter, which will appear in the Jan. 20 issue of the California Horsetrader.

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