Death of colt provokes anger

N.C. beach accident makes Dayton man focus of ire at tourists

July 02, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

A western Howard County man has become the center of a storm of protest after hitting and mortally wounding a 2-week-old wild colt while driving on the Outer Banks of North Carolina about 2 1/2 weeks ago.

Clyde H. Brown III, 20, of Dayton pleaded guilty to reckless driving and underage possession and consumption of a malt beverage after hitting the colt about 10 p.m. June 15 in Corolla, N.C. A sheriff's deputy shot the colt to put it out of its misery.

Brown, who paid a $211 fine, said that he is sorry he hurt the colt but that North Carolina residents should accept his apology and move on.

But residents of Corolla, who love their wild Spanish mustangs almost as much as they love their solitude, aren't ready to forgive Brown -- or the summer tourists who in recent years have flocked to their once-remote part of the world to party and drive pickup trucks on the beach.

"We do welcome tourists, but we don't welcome" people who are reckless, said longtime Corolla resident Joe Finn, whose 21-year-old son, Lee, witnessed the accident. "We want to have a family-oriented beach, and you have people coming down, and they think it's wide open and they can do whatever the heck they please."

Lloyd D. Childers, director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, which seeks to protect the dozens of wild horses that roam the area, said, "It is one truck after another, and they are parked almost side by side.

"It's a madhouse," she said.

Until contacted by a reporter Wednesday, Brown said he had no idea he had become a symbol for Corolla residents of all that has gone wrong in their town, the northernmost portion of the barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks. He said he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about because he thinks he barely hit the colt, was by no means drunk and wasn't driving recklessly.

"Accidents happen," he said. "That's a fact, and if they can't face it, that's their problem, not mine."

A graduate of Glenelg High School, Brown works on a 190-acre crop farm with his father.

About three weeks ago, Brown and family friends went to Corolla for a weeklong vacation and rented a house north of the town proper. The only way to get to the house was by driving a dozen miles along county-owned shoreline.

On June 15, Brown said, it was rainy and everyone had cabin fever. He had "a beer or two" about 5 p.m., he said, then went into town with two friends to run errands and play basketball.

On the way back, Brown said -- about four hours after he consumed alcohol, he said -- he wanted to try his hand at driving on the beach. He admits he was speeding, but said he needed to keep a steady pace to avoid getting the two-wheel-drive truck stuck in the sand.

Then, out of the mist, a herd of about eight horses appeared, he said. Most scattered, but not the colt, which was anywhere from a week to 2 weeks old, Corolla residents say. Brown said he couldn't brake in time and nicked the colt.

"I didn't mean to hurt the horse," Brown said. "I didn't think I'd hit it that bad. I didn't feel it."

The truck got stuck in the sand farther up the beach, according to Brown and others. At that point, Brown said, some residents came out and started calling him a murderer.

Susan Johnson, a spokeswoman for Currituck County sheriff's office, confirmed Brown's basic account of the incident. "The wild horses at the beach have become a rather large issue," she said. "[Residents] are trying very hard to keep them alive and keep them safe, and I don't blame them at all for that. It's something they were very passionate about [The Brown incident] just became a heated situation."

The issue was featured in an Outer Banks newspaper, the Coastland Times, the following Sunday, and the article described residents' anger at the death of the horse.

Joe Finn, who arrived on the scene about 10: 30 p.m., said a stallion and mare were circling the colt and screaming. When he and his son went back the next day to bury the colt, he said, the mare was still circling. He said she had kept vigil all night, keeping hungry foxes at bay.

The next night, Finn said, about 20 residents parked outside the rental house where Brown and his friends were staying to protest. Brown said he had left at that point, driven away by the animosity of the neighbors.

Currituck County residents aren't ready to forgive or forget, especially with tourist season bringing 30,000 people a week to the otherwise sleepy town with a population of about 500. Many of the residents are calling for stronger laws to prevent people from joy-riding on the beach.

Childers, director of the horse fund, said tourism became a problem only recently.

"In 1984, they paved the road from Duck to Corolla, and that's when it all began," she said. "Once that development happened, the developers began to see dollar signs in their eyes, and things began to get very dangerous for the horses."

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