Atwater Village -- The grand opening of a $16 million L.A. River bridge for pedestrians and equestrians has been postponed and the structure fenced off following the death of a horse last week.
The horse apparently died after galloping or sliding off the bridge's eastern entrance and into a concrete wall, according to some accounts. The deadly incident has prompted some area equestrians to call for additional safety measures before the North Atwater Multi-Modal Bridge reopens to horses.
"I don't think [the bridge] should open until this thing is fixed ... so no other animal or person has to go through this again," said Lisa Winckler, one of several equestrians who gathered at the bridge shortly after the incident.
The 300-foot-long cable-stayed bridge is one of three new L.A. River bridges between Atwater Village and Cypress Park that will be off-limits to motor vehicles. Located about a half-mile north of Los Feliz Boulevard, the North Atwater bridge features a 60-foot-high, angled tower -- referred to as a "mast" -- that rises above the river channel and is visible to motorists on the nearby 5 Freeway.
A gap that runs down the middle of the bridge divides the span, with one side serving pedestrians and cyclists and the other catering to equestrians and their horses.
There's still no official account as to how the horse died on the evening of Friday, Jan. 17. Though the bridge had not yet been dedicated, it was already open last week, according to horse owners and joggers interviewed at the river.
Winckler said she was told by those at the scene that two horses being led across the bridge got loose from their handlers after being spooked. Both horses turned around and raced back to the Atwater Village side of the river, where numerous stables are located.
One horse turned right at the end of the bridge and onto a path that leads to the stables. The other horse ran or slipped off the bridge and collided with a low concrete wall, flipping over and falling a few feet onto a passageway that connects the river path above to a bridle trail below, she said.
The animal, described as a pinto gelding, was euthanized after breaking both front legs, Winkler said.
On Tuesday afternoon, a small bouquet of flowers sat on top of the concrete wall. A sign taped to the wall read "Winston" and "We know you are no longer here for you have sprouted wings. Till we meet again. Love You"
The horse appeared to have been frightened by a traffic noise, said Mary Nemick, a spokeswoman for the city's Bureau of Engineering. "However, the city is still looking into the incident, and cannot confirm any details at this time," she said in an email. Nemick did not say whether the traffic noise came from the nearby 5 Freeway.
A grand opening ceremony for the bridge has been postponed until further notice and the bridge will remain off limits for the time being, Nemick said.
"The equestrian side of the bridge will remain closed until our analysis is complete," she said. "The pedestrian side will be reopened soon for use by bikes and people crossing on foot."
The new span is supposed to ensure that equestrians no longer have to ride into the concrete channel and across the river to get to the other side.
Winckler said she would like to see the bridge's rubber flooring extended to cover the concrete pavement at each end of the span, to help prevent horses from sliding and slipping. She also said the bridge's side rails are too low. She and other riders are planning to meet soon to discuss the incident, she said.
"We all want the bridge. We all want the bridge to open," said Winckler, who rides a 15-year-old Andalusian gelding. "But I just want it to be made as safe as possible."