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Fatal car show crash Street design determined a factor

Fatal car show crash Street design determined a factor

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 7:39 am

By WOODY BAIRD Associated Press Writer MEMPHIS (AP) — The final state report on a car show crash that killed six spectators says the public street on which an ill-fated dragster demonstration was staged was poorly designed for such an exhibition. The crash occurred in June 2007 in Selmer. The driver of the race car that plowed into onlookers pleaded guilty in August of this year to 28 charges of reckless assault. He was sentenced to 18 months probation. Lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages are still pending. A crash report by the Tennessee Highway Patrol says the 3,000 horsepower dragster reached 92 miles an hour in 3.56 seconds before swerving into spectators standing six deep on the side of the street. Six spectators were killed and 22 others injured, many seriously. The report dated May 29 was provided to prosecutors investigating the case. The Associated Press obtained a copy through an open records request to the Tennessee Department of Safety. Professional driver Troy Critchley, an Australian living in Texas, was staging a “burnout” — sending up clouds of smoke from the dragster’s spinning tires — when he lost control of his custom-built Corvette replica on a Selmer street. In an interview with state investigators, Critchley said water was sprayed on the street to help make the tires spin and smoke, but one of the tires “dried out.” “It wasn’t able to spin anymore so it bit … Then it’s got traction, so it turns the car violently,” he said. The burnout was part of an annual car show and parade put on by Cars for Kids Southern Style Inc., a local charity that raises money for children’s hospitals. Spectators with no roadside barriers to protect them were lined up along both sides of the three-lane street to watch Critchley’s demonstration. The street was peaked slightly to aid drainage and it began to curve toward the end of the burnout route, the report said, and that “differed vastly from the flat, straight surface of a drag strip in which the car was designed to be operated on.” At drag strips, the report said, “safety for spectators is of paramount concern,” with onlookers protected by concrete walls, crowd control fences and “considerable distance … from the drag race course.” Critchley was in good health, had no alcohol or drugs in his blood and there were no mechanical faults with the car. Critchley originally was charged with vehicular homicide, a felony that could have sent him to prison, but he pleaded guilty to lesser offenses. No one else involved with the event was charged with a crime. Lewis Cobb, a lawyer representing the family of a teenager killed in the crash, said defendants in 20 or more lawsuits include Critchley, his racing sponsors, organizers of the car-show and the city of Selmer. Victims’ lawyers expect to question Critchley under oath early next year. “We think his actions were just part of the problem,” Cobb said. “Whose decisions made this catastrophe happen?” Critchley apologized in court to crash victims and their families, saying he took part in the car show to raise money for sick children, not to hurt anyone. Published in The Messenger 12.29.08

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