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Paris, on her rear, puts town on its ear

When the star of Simple Life 2 takes a harmless tumble off a horse near Brooksville, things suddenly become very complicated.

Published March 20, 2004

[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
The Simple Life star Paris Hilton talks to reporters about her visit to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa Friday after she fell from a horse.

Pop culture princess Paris Hilton fell off a horse Friday evening in Hernando County while filming the reality television show The Simple Life 2.

Within a few hours, most of the world knew about it.

Hilton suffered only minor injuries from the fall and a kick in the stomach from the horse, but she was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa as a precaution.

Hilton's travels through the region in recent days have caused a buzz. When she tumbled from the horse on Friday, a full circus erupted.

Stories hit the news wires, reporters swarmed outside the hospital and the spectacle surrounding Hilton grew only larger.

Chris Alexander, publicist for Twentieth Century Fox Television in Los Angeles, said the 23-year-old Hilton was filming for the Simple Life 2 when the incident occurred shortly after 5 p.m. She was treated by paramedics at the scene, Alexander said.

"To err on the side of caution, we med-evaced her to St. Joseph's Hospital for observation," Alexander said. "She was walking around shortly after the incident."

News crews - radio, television, print - flooded the hospital's parking lot and set up shop on a small grass island near the emergency room.

Cameramen, at least six of them, jostled for the best shot. Reporters dictated stories into cell phones. One even brought a pizza.

By the time hospital spokeswoman Lisa Patterson emerged to address the growing media, the press questions had reached a fever pitch.

How is Paris?

"She is going to be just fine," Patterson said.

Have you had to increase security at the hospital?

"We always take patient safety as a top priority."

Is there a chance you can tell her we'd like to talk to her?

"She knows."

About the same time Friday night, some 30 people had gathered at the Batten ranch, a weekend rodeo hangout five miles east of Brooksville on a winding country road.

The ranch is one of the locations for the show, which this season has Hilton and fellow socialite Nicole Ritchie on a cross-country trip without money, credit cards or their ubiquitous cell phones. Last season, the duo lived with a farm family in rural Arkansas.

Hardly anyone at the ranch would say they had seen Hilton, nor would they describe what happened to her. Several people said they'd been told to come Friday night for bullriding and that someone "important" would be there.

One person acknowledged it was Hilton.

Up at the Batten farmhouse, a production crew remained on hand. A Times reporter who asked about Hilton and her injury was given a terse no comment and urged to leave.

Travis Batten emerged from the house and escorted the Times reporter from the property. By 8:30 p.m., TV lights were still illuminating the front yard.

Elsewhere around Hernando and Pasco counties, talk of Hilton's movements abounded.

There was talk that Hilton and Ritchie were headed to Pasco County this weekend to a nudist colony off U.S. 41, and Hilton was reported to be heading to a well-known Brooksville watering hole this weekend.

"They were supposed to be here tonight or Saturday," said Louise LaMont, mother of the owner of Miss Kitty's Lounge and Package in Brooksville Friday evening. "The phones have been ringing off the hook all day long."

Friday's events followed Hilton's appearance at Weeki Wachee Springs earlier this week.

About 9 p.m., hospital officials moved the media mob to the helicopter landing pad.

"We know this is a global story," hospital spokesman Will Darnall said. "We want to get you the best shot possible."

Hilton emerged from the emergency room a few minutes later. Any sense of order fell to pieces.

"There she is!" one television reporter shouted. "Paris, can you just come talk with us one minute!? Can we just ask you a couple of questions?!"

Hilton obliged. She walked over to the mob, as a crew from The Simple Life 2 filmed the news crews filming her.

"I feel really tired," she said, peering back at the cameras. "But I'm just really lucky. I was just really scared."

The reporters captured every word.

"I feel a lot better now," Hilton said, "but I don't think I'll ride a horse for awhile."

As the news crews packed up and rushed from the scene to prepare for broadcast, a man and woman walking out of the hospital looked at the scene, perplexed. What is going on, the man asked, what is all the commotion?

"It's Paris Hilton," shouted a cameraman.

"Who is that?" the man asked.

The cameraman shook his head.

"Who is that?" the cameraman said. "He needs to watch more TV."

- Times staff writers Andrew Skerritt, Duane Bourne, Robert King and James Thorner contributed to this report.

[Last modified March 20, 2004, 06:05:07]

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