Growling at carriage horses while wearing a full-body Tyrannosaurus Rex suit is illegal, a South Carolina woman has learned.
As two horses pulled a carriage of tourists through Charleston, South Carolina on Thursday evening, the horses came face to face with an unfamiliar animal: a six-foot, orange dinosaur. The extinct beast, however, was actually a person in an inflatable T-Rex suit. And when the person allegedly growled at the carriage, the horses became startled, backing the carriage into a parked car, unseating the carriage driver, and running over his leg.
Though multiple onlookers captured photos and video of the incident, the agitator’s face was concealed inside the dinosaur suit, leaving police without a suspect until 26-year-old Nicole Wells turned herself into police Friday night. She was charged with disorderly conduct and wearing a mask or disguise.
Wearing a mask is illegal in South Carolina, and Charleston has particularly strict anti-mask ordinances. City residents over the age of 16 are prohibited from wearing masks in public places, even on Halloween. And after Wells allegedly spooked the carriage horses, locals placed a bounty on her T-Rex head.
A Thursday video shows a chaotic scene as the two carriage horses faced down the dinosaur suit. “Get out of here!” a person is heard shouting as tourists leap from the carriage. But the person in the dinosaur suit advanced, police said.
“The individual in the costume … began making growling noises at the horses,” police said in a statement. “This spooked the horses and they began backing up. The carriage then struck an unoccupied vehicle and caused minor damage to its bumper. The driver then lost balance and fell off the carriage. A wheel on the carriage ran over one of his legs resulting in him being transported to Roper Hospital with minor injuries.”
The incident has reignited an already fraught debate over Charleston’s controversial carriage horses. Animal rights activists say the animals are overheated, overworked, and at risk of being startled or hit by cars in the city streets where they pull carriages. The horses, brothers named Yogi and Boo Boo, were unharmed, aside from minor scrapes on Yogi, Palmetto Carriage Works said. But the company’s owner Tommy Doyle accused animal rights activists of provoking the dinosaur incident.
“Today's assault is outrageous and has no place in Charleston,” Palmetto manager Tommy Doyle told Charleston’s Live News 5. “The harassment our horses and mules receive from radical animal rights activists is creating an environment that is dangerous for animals and people. The City of Charleston needs to condemn these tactics and warn groups that encourage this behavior that their rhetoric is fueling this danger."
But Joe Elmore, CEO of the Charleston Animal Society said there was no evidence that the incident had anything to do with animal rights activists.
“How can you jump to all these conclusions?” Elmore told The Daily Beast of Doyle’s claims that animal rights activists prompted the dinosaur scare, adding that the Charleston Animal Society had nothing to do with the incident. He pointed out that the inflatable dinosaur costumes are something of a viral sensation online, where people film themselves wearing the T-Rex suits to ballet class, trampoline gyms, and skate parks.
“There’s this phenomenon of people dressing up in dinosaur costumes,” Elmore said. “If you go online, it’s all over the place. Someone told us they saw this person in the market earlier that week.”
It is unclear whether Wells, who could not be reached for comment, had any involvement with animal rights groups, or was simply outside in a dinosaur costume.
The Charleston Animal Society supports new regulations and scientific studies to improve the horses’ health, not an overall ban on carriages, although Palmetto Carriage Works has accused the group of trying “end horse-drawn carriages in Charleston”. The group condemned the incident and offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the dinosaur’s arrest.
“According to reports, an individual dressed in a dinosaur costume intentionally tormented the horses, placing both people and animals in danger,” the Charleston Animal Society said in a statement.
“If true, we view this as animal cruelty and it is not only unacceptable, but also against the law,” Elmore said.
Police say an investigation into the event is ongoing.