CINCINNATI -- Police say a concrete beam was the difference between life and death for a woman left dangling after a horse-drawn carriage crash on the Taylor-Southgate Bridge Thursday.
"She got knocked quite a distance off of that carriage," Newport Police Chief Tom Collins said. "She was laying over top (of the ledge). For some reason when she fell across, she got stuck on the beam and she was crossways like a 'T' across the bridge. It stopped her fall."
Authorities said Tina Hemingway, 39, was heading toward Cincinnati just before 5:30 p.m. when a car struck the back of her carriage, causing her to launch into the air and hang over the bridge’s ledge.
Daniel Blackwell, who was on his way home from work when he witnessed the crash, said he wanted to help Hemingway but was too far away on the pedestrian side of the bridge.
"I was able to put my arm out and talk to her," he said. "She was awake and obviously out of it. I was able to tell her help was on the way (and) 'Don't squirm around. You're hanging. If you squirm too much you're going to fall.'"
A frantic 911 call from a witness at the scene told police to “send help quick” because "a lady is hanging off the bridge."
Newport officer Keith Phefferman was the first official to arrive, and said his initial thought was to hold Hemingway in position until more crews responded.
But as he saw her struggle to move, he said he knew he needed to take action.
“I approached her, and I looked over, I saw water and she began to panic,” he said. “At that time, I really thought that her movements could cause her to lose her positioning and fall into the river."
With help from a good Samaritan, Phefferman said he was able to safely remove her from the wall and place her on a stretcher.
Hemingway, from Crittenden, Ky., was taken to an area hospital for surgery. She suffered four fractures to her face, broke her left leg, fractured her pelvis and was treated for swelling in her right knee. She underwent more surgery Friday, according to her brother Nathan Hemingway.
The bridge was temporarily shut down Thursday evening as authorities cleared the wreckage and moved the horse.
Police said the carriage, owned by Cincinnati business Elegant Carriage, was almost destroyed. The horse, named Easy, suffered only minor injuries to his back legs, but is in good condition.
“It’s our go-to horse,” Nathan said.
Officials said Friday the horse did not cause the crash. Nathan said Elegant Carriage will continue operating as normal.
The 21-year-old woman driving the car that struck the carriage was not injured. She stayed at the scene during rescue efforts, police said.
Collins said Hemingway is lucky to be alive.
"I'm telling you this situation could have been a whole lot worse than it was," he said. "She would have gone in the water. There's no two ways about this. It was just horrific."
A second crash followed on Friday evening, when another horse-drawn carriage was hit by a car on the Taylor-Southgate Bridge. The carriage driver was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Police said the horse, named Jimmy, then dragged the carriage without a driver. Because of its training, it stopped at a red light near Newport on the Levee. The carriage's back wheels were both broken.
Newport police officers caught up to the horse still attached to the carriage in front of the Levee shortly after.
These crashes aren't the first involving horse-drawn carriages on Tri-State's bridges.
Authorities said a woman was driving drunk when she ran her car into the rear of a horse-drawn carriage on the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge on Sept. 25, 1986.
A passenger of the carriage – Donald Neff of Greenville, Ohio – was thrown and fell to his death in the river, the Associated Press reported.
After the incident, then spokesman for the Cincinnati League for Animal Welfare Tom Donnelly urged City Council members to impose safety measures. He said carriage accidents were on the rise and needed to be prevented.
But Michael Jaber, a driver of the business Covington Carriage, told lawmakers not to act hastily to ban carriage traffic from bridges.
“We are an important element in this city…for tourists, and it is a convention city," Jaber said at a City Hall meeting a week after the crash. “It is an important avenue of commerce between cities.
Today, most horses used to pull carriages around Cincinnati are kept in a warehouse on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.
WCPO Reporter Jason Law and Web Editor Holly Pennebaker contributed to this report.