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Bull goes AWOL at Gateway

Wendy Lund was having a run-of-the mill evening as the manager of The Gateway's Happy Sumo restaurant when a large crash was followed by yells about a flying cow.

Lund rushed outside just in time to see a broken table, flattened chairs, destroyed planter box and terrified customers. She caught a glimpse of the culprit, a runaway bull by the name of Fear Factor, who was AWOL from the Days of '47 Rodeo Wednesday night.

"People were kind of in shock," said Lund. "All of the people inside ran outside and some of those outside were trying to make their way inside. We were wondering if another bull was going to come over (the balcony) . . . If it was a stampede."

No, it wasn't an errant stampede or Beehive version of Spain's running of the bulls. Just one anxious bull that bolted from the adjacent Delta

Center near the end of the rodeo's bull-riding event. Fear Factor scaled two fences, one 6 feet tall, before squeezing through an 18-inch gap to get out of the arena and make his way to the crowded Gateway mall.

As cowboys alerted rodeo officials of Fear Factor's escape, the pick-up men, who are responsible for getting livestock out of the arena, took off after the 5-year-old bull. One of those, Virgil Neves, said he couldn't always see the bull, but he was sure he was on the right trail.

"I could hear him," he said. "And he was leaving some traces, you know."

The cow pies left by the anxious animal led Neves and the others to Fear Factor just as he decided to try to lose his pursuers. He scrambled onto the cement wall of the mall's second level and jumped about 20 feet to the patio below.

Stunned and surprised, Lund and the Happy Sumo crowd watched the men on horseback chase the bull.

"It was kind of like being in a movie," she said. "It was something totally unreal. For everybody, it was pretty amazing to see a bull barreling down the middle of The Gateway plaza."

Lund said the Happy Sumo was almost completely full of patrons when Fear Factor made his airborne entrance from the balcony above the restaurant's patio.

"I had just had a server bus the table where he landed 30 seconds before," she said, adding that it was the only vacant table at the time. "It was pure luck I didn't have anyone sitting there, or a server standing there."

While Lund dialed 911, Fear Factor made his way to 400 West and headed south, followed by the men on horseback. Neves said he saw the bull jump, but focused instead on taking his horse, Junior, down the stairs.

"I didn't stop and look at the damage," he said with a shrug. "I didn't want to follow him."

Neves said the animal was just trying to get to a place he felt more comfortable.

"He was just trying to find something familiar," Neves said.

After Fear Factor was roped at about 350 South and 400 West, he was uncharacteristically happy to jump in the trailer.

Wednesday's escape was rare in occurrence and magnitude, said Jeff Flitton, who works for Bar T, which handles the animals for about 13 rodeos a year, including the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

"Most of the time, the bulls are trying to get away from people," he said.

Bar T has had very few escapes and no one's ever been hurt. Flitton said Bar T purchased Fear Factor last December at the NFR auction, and he's always been a little anxious.

"He's not hurt," Flitton said. "He's still a little bit worked up today, and seems a little sore, but he'll be fine."

David Berg, a founder of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition said he was not surprised to hear about Fear Factor's escape.

Berg believes that rodeo contractors — and all animal entertainment operators — use acts of terror, such as beatings and electric shocks in order to provoke animals into exhibiting certain behaviors.

"Bulls are normally quite docile animals, all cattle are by nature," he said. "In the ring, they are made to act wildly through eliciting pain."

The Days of '47 Rodeo organizers were considering themselves very lucky that no one — including the bull — was injured. They convinced Delta Center security to close chain-link fences part way during the bull riding Thursday afternoon.

Aside from getting a day off after his Tour de Gateway, it appears Fear Factor is destined for a new name.

"We're going to change his name to Gateway," Flitton said with a smile.