When Dave and Kelli Sanders of rural Alta went to bed Monday night, little did they know what they would learn then they woke up in the middle of the night.
Sometime between 11 p.m. Monday and 1 a.m. Tuesday, someone entered their barn and let our their herd of 12 horses. It was not the first, nor the second, but the third time that it had happened over the past two years. This time, it was deadly, with three horses killed, two cars wrecked and two people taken to the hospital.
The previous two times it happened, the horses remained in the corral. Monday night, though, the vandals were determined to do something particularly vicious.
They smashed the back window of the Sander's 1999 Chevrolet Silverado pickup and opened the barn door then the stable in the barn. The Sanders' pleasure horses went to a corral and were apparently chased from the corral about two miles east along 580th Street to 40th Avenue, just south of Highway 7 and about a mile west of Alta. From there, the horses followed Highway 7 northwest, trying to make their way back to the Sanders' farm. Then, when they were about a mile north of the farm and two and a half miles west of Alta at about 1:50 a.m., Jason Taylor of Omaha was driving west from Alta in a truck. He couldn't stop, and struck three of the horses on the road. Taylor's truck then crossed into the eastbound lane and hit a car driven by David Lydell of Alta. Both vehicles went in the ditch and Lydell was trapped in his vehicle.
Alta and Aurelia fire departments both responded. Emergency workers used the Jaws of Life to get Lydell out of his vehicle. Both he and Taylor were taken to Buena Vista Regional for treatment. Taylor was treated and released, but Lydell had to be admitted to the hospital.
Both vehicles were a total loss and the horses killed included a paint mare, a 3-year-old quarter horse, and a 2-year-old appaloosa with total value of about $2,500.
Deputies woke the Sanders at 3:30 a.m.
Kelli had all she could do to talk about the accident on the phone. When she couldn't go on, her daughter Amanda filled in the details.
Two years ago August, someone took the gates off the fences. The Sanders had left on a trip with most of their horses. Two horses and a pony left behind stayed in their stall, but the pony was injured where one of the gates was removed and the animal required 30 stitches.
Last fall, someone took down all the gates on the corral. The animals stayed put, even with the gates gone. The vandals were more determined this time, Amanda said.
"The third time they opened the barn doors and chased them," Amanda said. They searched for the paint mare starting at 3:30 a.m. "There were eight vehicles out looking for the horses," Amanda said. Finally, noon Tuesday, they found the paint mare dead in the ditch.
The Sanders heard nothing unusual Monday night. Amanda said any evidence of footprints was likely destroyed when the Sanders family frantically searched for their 12 horses.
This time, the Sanders have had enough. They are offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever it was that let their horses out of the barn and chased them down the road.