Horse accident claims HOPE volunteer

Marshall MacElveen

A Sunlight Beach man and equestrian group volunteer was killed in a horse accident at the Island County Fairgrounds in Langley this week.

According to the Island County Coroner’s Office, Marshall MacElveen was in a trailer with three horses just before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday when he was fatally injured by one of the animals.

He was 61.

MacElveen was a volunteer with Horsemanship Opportunities for Potential Equestrians, or HOPE, a Langley-based non-profit organization dedicated toward helping children and adults with special challenges using equine-assisted activities and therapy, according to the group’s website. He was just beginning to unload the horses for classes Tuesday when the accident occurred, according to Chloe Wilkins, head instructor with the organization.

She described MacElveen, a volunteer with the group since 2009, as a warm and charismatic man. He was quick to smile and had an ability to connect with HOPE students when others could not, she said. Wilkins referenced one student, a hesitant young woman in a wheelchair, with whom he had a special connection.

“He’d flash his toothy grin and she’d do anything for him,” Wilkins said.

Losing him so unexpectedly has left organization leaders and students reeling.

“The whole group is in shock,” she said.

Terri Anson, MacElveen’s life partner, said MacElveen had a long love of horses and a flair for adventure. Hailing from Colorado, he’d worked on ranches, was a former bull rider, loved to ski and once owned a Montana-based travel adventure company — Applied Information Services, a computerized leisure travel information/reservation system that put out an official recreation guide.

“He did everything at full throttle,” Anson said. “He was not a halfway person.”

But he was also gentle and well liked. The couple came to South Whidbey in the late 1990s. Settling in the Sunlight Beach Community, he was a Neighborhood Watch supporter, loved to garden and help his neighbors.

“Many people on the beach would call him when things went wrong because he knew how to do so many things,” Anson said.

MacElveen was also known for a special type of poetry.

“He called it metaphysical cowboy poetry… It was its own kinda poetry,” said Anson.

And people liked it. He once had a sold-out performance at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.

His life experiences and his personality made him a perfect fit for HOPE, said Anson, and he loved volunteering with the organization.

Wilkins was with MacElveen when he died, but didn’t witness the accident. She called 9-1-1 and instructed first responders to approach with their sirens off as MacElveen was lying under the horses. According to Langley Police Chief David Marks, first responders arrived to find him unconscious and not breathing.

“We spent probably 30 minutes doing CPR, using the defibrillator… trying to bring him back, but there was just no sign of life,” Marks said.

According to Island County Coroner Robert Bishop, an autopsy showed that MacElveen died from a neck fracture, not from being kicked or stepped on as authorities first reported.

“Apparently he was knocked against the wall of the horse trailer by the horse moving sideways,” Coroner Robert Bishop said.

Bishop said the man had a serious preexisting condition that predisposed him to the injury.

As a HOPE volunteer, Wilkins said MacElveen can never be replaced. His kindness, willingness to help out with whatever was needed and his fun personality made him one of a kind, she said.

“He was an old cowboy but a super softie at heart,” Wilkins said.

“He was just a tremendous guy,” she said.