Owner of horse that collapsed and died on Bourbon Street has been under investigation

This story was published on page A1 of The Times-Picayune on Dec. 19, 2011. 

The owner of the horse that dropped dead on Bourbon Street Sunday afternoon has been offering buggy rides to tourists in the French Quarter for months. At issue is whether he charges for them.

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The city’s Taxicab Bureau has been investigating Steven Chambers, 51, of New Orleans, after complaints by carriage companies that Chambers, who is unlicensed and uninsured, was operating illegally. The companies also allege Chambers mistreated his horses and did not clean up after them.

So far, city investigators haven’t found evidence that Chambers charges tourists for rides, said Malachi Hull, director of the city’s Ground Transportation Bureau. If they determine he has been charging tourists for rides, Chambers could be served a summons for operating without a permit, a charge that can carry up to 90 days’ imprisonment.

Chambers says his horse rides are strictly free.

“It’s all for fun,” Chambers, who owns a plumbing company, said Monday. “I don’t take any money for any rides. These horses are not for hire and that’s why I don’t believe I need a license.”

But representatives of Royal Carriages, Mid-City Carriages and Good Old Days Carriages claim that every weekend, Chambers is in the same spot in the French Quarter, on the corner of Decatur and Madison Streets.

“A guy doesn’t go out in the Quarter all the time and have different people on the cart all the time if he’s not being paid for it,” said Louis Charbonnet, owner of Mid-City Carriages. “It’s definitely an illegal situation.”

After the deaths of two horses in the summer of 1980, the city council outlawed horses, opting instead to allow mules, which are hardier, to pull carriages. The company in charge of the horses that died, Le Petite Tours, subsequently lost its permit to operate.

The three carriage companies that have complained about Chambers also say his horses looked mistreated, with sores on their ankles, visible ribs and back bones, and dull coats.

The horse that died Sunday was 10 years old, which is “way too young to be dropping dead,” said Dr. Allison Barca, the veterinarian advising the LSPCA on the case. Most horses live to around 25, Barca said.

The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has sent the horse’s body to LSU Veterinary Clinic for a necropsy, to determine the cause of death, said Katherine Leblanc, LSPCA spokeswoman.

“It’s a shame it had to come to that, but we’ve always looked at the condition of his animals out in the Quarter and they’ve not been healthy,” Charbonnet said.

Chambers often brings three horses into the Quarter, the carriage companies said. Two horses pull a two-person buggy and the other walks behind with a person riding on it, which is illegal for licensed companies to do.

Patricia Mata, president of Good Old Days Carriage Co., suggested that city investigators haven’t caught Chambers giving tourists paid rides because they don’t work weekends.

Hull said the city has received many complaints about horse manure on the sidewalks, and the carriage companies blame Chambers, whose horses — unlike their mules — don’t wear diapers.

“He wastes all over the sidewalk, especially on that corner of Decatur and Madison,” said James Lauga Jr., general manager of Royal Carriages. “I’m constantly picking up after him.”

Lauga said he and the other carriage companies gave the city photos of Chambers’ buggy rides and waste left on the sidewalk.

Hull said the bureau’s investigation is ongoing.

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