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Rodeo officials deny wrongdoing in Bull Bash injury

February 20, 2019

After Saturday's accident at the Bull Bash, Makia Nunn only suffered a concussion and torn ligaments in his knee. | Photo contributed by Andrea Nunn

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While Makia Nunn recovers after being thrown by a bull at Saturday’s Bull Bash at the Sportscenter, rodeo officials deny responsibility for his injuries. Both the event producer Ernie Treadway Rodeo Company (ETRC) and the sanctioning body Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association (SEBRA) said “Cowboy Pinball” volunteers signed a waiver, though it remains unclear who supplied it.

Andrea Nunn, Makia’s wife, said her husband was never given an official waiver to sign before participating in the Cowboy Pinball game.

“All he signed was a piece of notebook paper, like the kind you use at school,” Andrea said. “There was no real waiver. All they did was print their name, sign their name and write their birthdate down, and that’s it.”

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Another volunteer for the Cowboy Pinball event, Katie Cook, said Andrea’s claim is untrue and all participants did complete a waiver.

According to Cook, there was one copy of the waiver that all the volunteers signed. However, Cook said she didn’t read the waiver and isn’t sure if any other volunteers did either.

SEBRA President Chan Canter said the facility — meaning the Sportscenter — provided the release form to volunteers.

“We did not provide a waiver of any sort,” said a representative for the Sportscenter. “That was managed by the announcer’s table staff.”

Owensboro Times requested a waiver from ETRC and SEBRA, who both denied the request.

“The reports from ‘volunteers,’ stating a piece of notebook paper was signed, is absolutely ridiculous,” Canter said.

While the Nunns have not said they plan to file a lawsuit against any involved party at this time, Owensboro Times consulted local personal injury attorney Travis Holtrey regarding potential liability in this incident.

Holtrey said he’s worked many cases that involved official waivers, including white water rafting, zip lines, bungee jumping and skydiving. All of those waivers were very detailed and specific as to what consequences could be suffered by the person signing, and also revealed details as to what exactly could go wrong during said event.

“I think [Cowboy Pinball] is negligent, but I also understand that under certain conditions, you can waive your negligence,” Holtrey said. “If one of these people were to come to my office who had been injured in this incident, I would file a lawsuit to see what was signed and see if it was reasonable. A paragraph saying, ‘Oh, I can get hurt’ — that’s not specific enough. Kentucky does recognize waivers of liability, they do enforce them. You have to be able to prove they knew what they were waiving by the language of the waiver.”

According to Cook, those who stood in line to participate in Cowboy Pinball were told what they could expect in the ring — including getting their teeth knocked out.

But she said no volunteer she witnessed was given any instruction in regard to handling a bull properly, nor were those inside the ring prepared for the second bull’s release into the enclosed space.

“When they went to release that bull, they didn’t announce it was coming out,” Cook said. “They announced there was going to be another bull — you can hear that fairly well on some of the videos. They said, ‘We’re gonna put this bull up and let out another one.’ The only other negative thing, I think, is that usually the bulls are put into a chute. There was no chute that second bull comes out of, when you watch the video. It raises the question, ‘Did they mean to let that bull out?’”

Cook said the bull who injured the three men in the ring had been ridden by a professional earlier in the night and showed aggression during that ride. Cook feels strongly that Makia’s injury was caused by Makia’s own provocation of the already aggressive animal.

Cook also believes staff working with ETRC — the organization SEBRA hired to host the weekend’s event — were irresponsible in the way they handled the bull when things got dangerous.

“They did get the bull out of the way, but they weren’t any help either,” Cook said. “The rodeo clown was running through people and trying to keep the bull running.”

After Makia was thrown by a bull during the Cowboy Pinball contest, he hit the ground and did not immediately wake up, which scared many of those in the audience who witnessed it. His injury also caused rodeo staff to quickly relocate Makia to a corner of the arena and end the game.

While Makia himself wanted to refrain from interviews regarding the incident, Andrea revealed what it was like to witness a loved one be thrown by an agitated bull.

“That was horrific,” Andrea said. “His face was purple [afterward], and I thought he was dead.”

Andrea said it took at least 10 minutes for her husband to wake up after he’d been knocked out. She rode with him in the ambulance to Owensboro Health Regional Hospital (OHRH), and it was during that ride that Makia regained consciousness.

After he was able to talk, Makia couldn’t remember any of the events that led to his injury. While he’s watched videos that have been uploaded to YouTube and other sites, he still can’t piece it all together.

At OHRH, Makia’s CT scan showed he suffered a concussion as a result of his run-in with the bull as well as torn ligaments in his knee. According to Andrea, doctors said Makia was lucky he survived.

Even with the injuries that her husband sustained, and the fear Andrea experienced during the event, she said she’s very grateful to the number of people who came by the hospital to check on them afterward.

“I had complete strangers calling me and coming up to the hospital, and I thought that was amazing,” Andrea said. “Thank you to everyone who came to the hospital to check on us. That was my first rodeo, and it’s probably the last.”

February 20, 2019

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