Organizer of fatal car show seeking permit for this year
By WOODY BAIRD
Associated Press Writer
MEMPHIS (AP) — Organizers of a small-town car show where six people died last year after being struck by an out-of-control dragster are seeking a parade permit for another festival this summer.
The Cars for Kids festival is the biggest annual event for rural McNairy County and the town of Selmer, about 80 miles east of Memphis, but last year’s show ended in tragedy when a drag racer doing a “burnout” on a public road slammed into spectators.
Six young people died and more than 20 other spectators were hurt, many critically.
Now, Selmer officials are considering a permit request for a Cars for Kids festival over the upcoming Father’s Day weekend, June 14-15.
“It’s still a somewhat sensitive subject with some folks, and rightfully so,” said Selmer Mayor David Robinson.
No tire-smoking dragster displays will be allowed this time, but some Selmer residents question if another festival should be held so soon, Robinson said, with memories of the crash still raw, a criminal investigation unfinished and lawsuits seeking more than $100 million in damages unsettled.
“You hear talk on both sides of the fence. Some are for it. Some are against it, and some are just ambivalent,” Robinson said Wednesday from Selmer. “That’s what we’re having discussions about.”
He said he did not know when a decision would be made.
Cars for Kids Southern Style Inc., a charity that raises money for children’s hospitals, puts on car shows around the South, with its crowning event each year in Selmer, the hometown of founder Larry Price.
Price said he was urged by supporters to continue the festival, which includes a street fair and a parade of several hundred cars — from hotrods to antiques. It is the biggest tourist draw for a county of 25,000 residents.
“Everybody’s ready,” Price said.
Troy Critchley, a professional driver from Texas, faces multiple charges of vehicular homicide and reckless aggravated assault in last year’s crash. No one else has been charged, but a review of a Highway Patrol investigation into the crash is ongoing.
Victims or their families have filed lawsuits against a variety of defendants, including Critchley, Cars for Kids and the city of Selmer, accusing them of recklessness.
Price said he was not worried about the lawsuits or the criminal investigation.
“Nope,” he said. “I go to bed at night and go to sleep.”
Even if the parade permit is denied, the car show and other events will continue at a city park near the site of last year’s crash, Price said.
“The entertainment starts on Friday, live country music and gospel music and stuff like that, like we normally do,” he said.
A parade must be approved by the mayor, the police chief and the fire chief, but a festival in the park requires no special permission, Robinson said.
Mike Donahoe, a lawyer whose firm represents families of victims killed in the crash, said postponing the festival would seem reasonable “out of respect for the people who were injured.”
“Certainly any of the people I represent would not be in favor of the exact same event that they had last year,” he said.
After the crash, state officials discovered that Cars for Kids, which was founded in 1990, was not registered in Tennessee for fundraising. The organization has since registered, without fines or other penalties, said Todd Kelley of the Tennessee secretary of state’s office.
“Basically, they were unaware of the need to register,” Kelley said.
Cars for Kids raised just under $165,000 last year, state records show. About $92,000 went to charitable causes with approximately $63,000 spent on management and operations.
Published in The Messenger 4.25.08