Aussie in US drag-car tragedy


Summary

Queenslander Troy Critchley was driving in a charity event in Selmer, Tennessee, on Saturday, when his drag racer skidded off the road in front of a drive-in restaurant and ploughed into a crowd, witnesses said.

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Selmer Police Chief Neal Burks said “bodies were flying into the air when it happened.”

Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Browning said the six who were killed included two 15-year-old girls and a 17-year-old girl. The accident injured 18 others, including a five-year-old boy.

The crash happened during an “exhibition burnout” – when a drag racer spins his tyres to make them heat up and smoke – at a Cars for Kids charity event at Selmer, about 130 kms east of Memphis.

Amateur video of the crash, broadcast on WMC-TV in Memphis, showed the car’s engine revving loudly before the vehicle sped down a highway. After a few hundred metres the car skidded off the road.

Mr Critchley, a pro driver who moved to the United States in 1998 and who is now based in Wylie, Texas, suffered minor injuries and was taken by car to a nearby hospital for treatment.

There were no criminal charges against Mr Critchley, Mr Browning said.

But police investigating the tragedy were seeking photographs and video of the accident.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol declined to make any statement on Sunday about road conditions or safety procedures during the car parade.

But witnesses asked why there were no guard rails between the crowds of spectators and the public highway where the drag-racing exhibition took place.

There was a guard rail along at least part of the highway, but not along that stretch.

Mourners placed small votive candles, flowers, a teddy bear and a ceramic angel at the crash site.

Drivers of other dragsters in the parade had been spinning their tyres and then accelerating quickly, but everyone else put on the brakes before going past the guard rails, Moore said.

“This is definitely not the kind of road you should be drag racing on,” Moore said. “This isn’t a flat open surface like you have at a race track.”

‘Should have been guard rails’

Nick Staples, who was at the show with his wife and three children from Columbus, Mississippi, said he was standing six metres from where the car ploughed into the audience.

“There should have been guard rails,” he said. “But even if there had been, it wouldn’t have mattered.”

The Highway Patrol said Raven Griswell, 15, and Sean Michael Driskill, 22, died at the scene. Four others – Brook L. Pope, 20, Scarlett Replogle, 15, Kimberly A. Barfield, 17, and Nicole Griswell, no age given – died later in area hospitals.

Matthew Brammer, administrator of AMS Pro Modified Series, which sanctions drag races, said Mr Critchley had driven the car involved in the wreck in competition.

Mr Critchley’s website said he began his career in an engine building shop in Brisbane, Australia, in 1986, and then raced on the Australian circuit in the ’90s. He moved to the United States in 1998. By late Sunday afternoon, the website carried a message saying it was not available.

Cars for Kids holds several events throughout the nation funds for charities that help children in need, according to its website.

A statement posted on the web site offered an apology to the victims and their families: “The loss is deep within our hearts and we will carry the scars of each loss forever.”


Queenslander Troy Critchley was driving in a charity event in Selmer, Tennessee, on Saturday, when his drag racer skidded off the road in front of a drive-in restaurant and ploughed into a crowd, witnesses said.

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Selmer Police Chief Neal Burks said “bodies were flying into the air when it happened.”

Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Browning said the six who were killed included two 15-year-old girls and a 17-year-old girl. The accident injured 18 others, including a five-year-old boy.

The crash happened during an “exhibition burnout” – when a drag racer spins his tyres to make them heat up and smoke – at a Cars for Kids charity event at Selmer, about 130 kms east of Memphis.

Amateur video of the crash, broadcast on WMC-TV in Memphis, showed the car’s engine revving loudly before the vehicle sped down a highway. After a few hundred metres the car skidded off the road.

Mr Critchley, a pro driver who moved to the United States in 1998 and who is now based in Wylie, Texas, suffered minor injuries and was taken by car to a nearby hospital for treatment.

There were no criminal charges against Mr Critchley, Mr Browning said.

But police investigating the tragedy were seeking photographs and video of the accident.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol declined to make any statement on Sunday about road conditions or safety procedures during the car parade.

But witnesses asked why there were no guard rails between the crowds of spectators and the public highway where the drag-racing exhibition took place.

There was a guard rail along at least part of the highway, but not along that stretch.

Mourners placed small votive candles, flowers, a teddy bear and a ceramic angel at the crash site.

Drivers of other dragsters in the parade had been spinning their tyres and then accelerating quickly, but everyone else put on the brakes before going past the guard rails, Moore said.

“This is definitely not the kind of road you should be drag racing on,” Moore said. “This isn’t a flat open surface like you have at a race track.”

‘Should have been guard rails’

Nick Staples, who was at the show with his wife and three children from Columbus, Mississippi, said he was standing six metres from where the car ploughed into the audience.

“There should have been guard rails,” he said. “But even if there had been, it wouldn’t have mattered.”

The Highway Patrol said Raven Griswell, 15, and Sean Michael Driskill, 22, died at the scene. Four others – Brook L. Pope, 20, Scarlett Replogle, 15, Kimberly A. Barfield, 17, and Nicole Griswell, no age given – died later in area hospitals.

Matthew Brammer, administrator of AMS Pro Modified Series, which sanctions drag races, said Mr Critchley had driven the car involved in the wreck in competition.

Mr Critchley’s website said he began his career in an engine building shop in Brisbane, Australia, in 1986, and then raced on the Australian circuit in the ’90s. He moved to the United States in 1998. By late Sunday afternoon, the website carried a message saying it was not available.

Cars for Kids holds several events throughout the nation funds for charities that help children in need, according to its website.

A statement posted on the web site offered an apology to the victims and their families: “The loss is deep within our hearts and we will carry the scars of each loss forever.”