By Jeff Wagner

WILLMAR, Minn. (WCCO) — Families visiting one of the most popular Christmas light displays in Minnesota had a scare they’ll never forget.

It happened Saturday night at Celebrate the Light of the World in Willmar.

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Investigators said horses were pulling a carriage with more than a dozen kids and parents inside when the animals suddenly got spooked. The horses pulled the carriage off the property and down a county road before crashing into a basketball hoop in the driveway of a home.

Investigators said the carriage driver was knocked out, landing him in the hospital in critical condition.

Al Setrum and his son Ashton were in the carriage, a tradition they started a few years ago.

“It wasn’t even 5-10 feet into the ride that you could tell there was something wrong with the horses,” he said.

Setrum said the horses sped off of the property and started down County Road 9.

He said the animals wouldn’t listen to the driver’s commands.

“Panic was really kind of starting to set in with everybody that was in (the carriage),” he said. Despite being scared, he said the driver was able to steer the horses enough to keep from riding into a ditch.

After traveling nearly a mile, he said the horses took a sharp turn down a driveway and crashed into a basketball hoop. He said the carriage canopy came crashing down.

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“That’s when I noticed the driver was no longer up front,” he said.

Investigators said the collision with the hoop knocked the driver unconscious. Setrum said the horses pulled the carriage back out onto road until a driver in a truck pulled in front of them, stopping the scary ride.

“To have something like this happen, our hearts and our prayers certainly go out to the families,” said Jeffrey Demars, media relations director for the Salvation Army’s norther division. The charity gets donations thanks to the display.

Demars said he talked to the carriage driver’s family. He said they told him the driver also suffered a heart attack sometime during the ride.

“Obviously people come out here to celebrate the lights, so to have something like this happen, all of our focus now is on those families and their recovery,” Demars said.

That’s where Setrum’s focus is, too. He hopes to have a chance to tell the driver thank you.

“If he wouldn’t have been up front controlling (the horses) through that first part when we went through the ditch in the first corner and up through the light display with all the people around, who knows would have happened,” Setrum said.

The display shut down after the incident Saturday night. Operations resumed Sunday evening.

Demars said the lights were back on because family members of the driver feel that’s the way he would have wanted it.

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As of Sunday night, the driver was listed in critical condition at HCMC in downtown Minneapolis.

Jeff Wagner