Football

Former American-Statesman photographer files lawsuit over Bevo XV’s pre-game Sugar Bowl surge

In a petition, photographer claims Bevo’s horns caused “permanent” neck and back injuries

Posted October 19th, 2020

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A former Austin American-Statesman photographer has filed a lawsuit against the owners and handlers of Bevo XV for negligence that caused “permanent injury” when the longhorn steer surged from his holding pen at the 2019 Sugar Bowl.

According to a petition filed in Travis Country district court on Friday, Nick Wagner was acting in his role as a Statesman photographer on Jan. 1, 2019. He was taking pictures of Uga X, Georgia’s bulldog mascot, prior to the Texas-Georgia game at the New Orleans Superdome.

Uga’s handlers brought their English bulldog over towards Bevo for a photo op, and the steer pushed forward, forcing onlookers to scramble for safety. The entire sequence was captured by Longhorn Network cameras, and short video clips went viral.

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Wagner “was on one knee in front of the portable railing which Bevo was behind,” according to the petition. “Bevo XV rammed his longhorns twice into Plaintiff’s back causing permanent injury to Plaintiff’s neck and back.”

Wagner’s attorney Jon Powell said in an interview that Wagner has more than $24,000 in medical bills from therapy sessions. The Statesman reviewed medical documents showing that Wagner had “loss of motion” and “impairment” in two areas of his spine.

“There’s no doubt that you don’t want to have Bevo run into your back,” Powell said. “He was just trying to do his job as a photographer, and it’s up to the handlers to make sure he doesn’t get out of control. Luckily, he didn’t get mauled or anything like that, but he did suffer a tough injury.”

Wagner thought he just had a deep bruise the next morning, but the pain never subsided. “I was 24 at the time, and being 24 years old with back pain didn’t really sit right with me,” Wagner said.

Former Austin American-Statesman Nick Wagner took a photo of his back after being hit by Bevo XV before the 2019 Sugar Bowl. Photo provided by Wagner’s attorney Jon Powell.

In various video clips, Wagner can be seen sitting on the ground with two cameras. Bevo’s head dips down briefly, one of his horns making contact with Wagner, and the photographer quickly moved away.

RELATED: Statesman photographer says he’ll pay Bevo ‘more respect in the future’ after close encounter

John and Betty Baker, Bevo’s actual owners, are the named defendants along with the Silver Spurs Alumni Association, the group assigned to Bevo’s day-to-day care. Sunrise Spur, Bevo’s XV real name, has been UT’s mascot since the start of the 2016 season.

Powell first reached out to the Silver Spurs Alumni Association and the Bakers on Nov. 7, 2019, according to a letter provided by Powell. The attorney asked that all photos, video and documents regarding the incident be preserved.

Wagner is seeking a jury trial with damages between $200,000 and $1 million. He left the Statesman in May. The Silver Spurs Alumni Association carries a liability policy with Cincinnati Insurance. Wagner’s claims for medical bills have been met with “radio silence,” Powell said.

“That’s probably an age-old story,” Powell said. “Once they feel like it’s out of the press, they don’t care.”

Edward Osuna, who is based in San Antonio, is the attorney of record for Cincinnati Insurance. He did not immediately respond to a message left by the Statesman.

The petition states that the defendants failed to take proper safety precautions, used faulty equipment, used faulty tack, failed to post warnings of danger and intentionally exposed Bevo to Uga “knowing it would spook him.”

The petition also alleges that the Bakers knew that Bevo’s handlers “were unfit or not competent, but still allowed them to handle Bevo XV and subsequently failed to supervise them.”

Ironically, most Texas players believed that Bevo’s pre-game charge set the tone for the Longhorns’ 28-21 win over the sixth-ranked Bulldogs.

When the 2019 season began, Bevo continued to attend road games, but he had a dramatically upgraded pen. The new setup was a 16-foot wide, 16-foot long cattle pen with stronger 4 1/2-foot tall panels.

The day after the Sugar Bowl, Wagner stopped at a gas station while heading home. It just so happened that Bevo’s trailer was at the same gas station at the same time.

“Happened upon the big guy at a gas station in Baton Rouge on the way home today,” Wagner tweeted with a photo of him standing behind Bevo’s trailer. “No love taps from him this time, just a pleasant side eye.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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