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Three Spectators Killed, Eight Injured at IRL Race

May 02, 1999| From Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. — Three spectators were killed and at least eight injured when struck by debris that flew into the stands after a three-car crash in the VisionAire 500 Indy Racing League event Saturday night.

Spectators sitting in the area where the crash occurred said a tire and suspension parts flew into the fourth-turn grandstands at Lowe's Motor Speedway and struck the spectators.

Area hospitals reported treating at least eight people, including one child who was in critical condition.

Two people were flown by helicopter to Carolinas Medical Center in nearby Charlotte, spokeswoman Kirstin Bass said. She said a child was in critical condition late Saturday night and an adult was in serious condition.

Three adults flown to University Hospital in Charlotte were in good condition, Bass said.

She declined to elaborate on the injuries or identify the victims.

As rescue workers were attending to the injured, the track canceled the race.

"This is a terrible thing," said speedway president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, who went into the stands where the debris landed and tried to comfort some of the spectators. "It's very regrettable. It's something we'll live with for a very, very long time."

Ninety minutes after the crash, the nearly 50,000 spectators had filed out of the track and investigators were working at the accident scene, taking measurements and roping off the area.

In the 1.5-mile superspeedway's sprawling infield, about 200 drivers and crew members gathered for a somber prayer service.

"My teammates and I are just full of sorrow," 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families. The decision to stop the race was the right one. We all leave Charlotte with extremely heavy hearts."

John Paul Jr. and Stan Wattles slammed hard into the fourth-turn retaining wall on lap 61 of the 208-lap event and went spinning down the front stretch, collecting the car of Scott Harrington.

Television replays could not show conclusively what kind of debris flew into the stands. But Joe Tiano, a Hickory, N.C., resident who was sitting about 150 feet away in a neighboring section of stands, said a wheel and suspension parts flew into the seats.

"It came up here like a rocket and then started bouncing around," Tiano said.

Within minutes of the crash, the three drivers were examined at the infield care center and released, and about 15 minutes later, Wheeler went on the public address system to tell fans the race was being canceled.

The incident was similar to an accident last July in which three spectators were killed by debris after a racing crash at Michigan International Speedway. The track later increased the height of its catch fences by 2 1/2 feet, to 17 feet.

Charlotte's catch fences were raised to 15 feet in 1997 in preparation for the track getting its first IRL race.

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