Covington, GA Drag Racing Accident, Mar 1969
DRAG RACER SLAMS INTO CROWD; 11 ARE KILLED, SCORES INJURED.
Covington, Ga. (AP) - A speeding drag racing car roared out of control Sunday at the Yellow River Drag Racing Strip, cutting a bloody swath through spectators, killing 11 and injuring 40 to 50 others.
Traveling at a speed estimated at 180 miles an hour, the racer tore through a chain-link fence lined with thousands of spectators, tossing many into the air.
The car, a 1969 Camaro, made of fiberglass, flipped over, split in two, ran up a bank into the stands, and then bounced back in pieces on the track, said Jimmy Edwards, 18, an eyewitness.
Pandemonium erupted after the crash and the screaming hysterical spectators delayed ambulances trying to get to the scene.
Victims were taken by car, pickup trucks and ambulances to hospitals within a 36-mile radius, including Rockdale, Decatur and Atlanta.
The drag strip is about 30 miles southeast of Atlanta near Covington.
Hospitals reported their emergency rooms were jammed and declined to give the number of injured, saying they were too busy. Many instructed their switchboards to stop forwarding calls.
Newton County Sheriff Henry Odum said the death toll was 11, but many were in critical condition.
The driver of the car HUSTON PLATT, 35, of Atlanta, walked away uninjured.
His wife, contracted by telephone by the Associated Press, said he was treated at a hospital for shock, then taken home and put to bed. He was unable to speak about the accident to anyone, she said.
"I was on the starting line," said Mrs. Platt. "He (her husband) told someone he heard a loud explosion and he pulled his chute but it went out of control anyway."
Parachutes are used to help brake the cars.
"Head Cut Off"
Young Edwards said, "It tore the car to hell. One man got caught up under the car, got his head cut off. It must have dragged him at least 100 feet."
Rick Lynch, an official of the American Hot Rod Association, who was at the race, estimated the speed of both cars in the two-car race as 180 miles an hour.
The driver of the other car, Frank Oglesby of Hammond, Ind., stopped his car at the end of the drag strip, and ran back to the scene, where he tried to help.
Sidney Castleberry, Jr., 25, of Kennesaw, Ga., said the car left the track about 250 feet from the finish line.
"It came fishtailing toward the area where my father and the rest of us - my brother and a friend were standing. As soon as we saw him leave the track, we all began running away. The car hit the fence where we had been standing.
"When the dust began to clear. I looked around and began to look for my father. I couldn't find him. I went back and found him lying 15 to 20 feet away," said Castleberry.
Edwards said an announcer warned spectators before the race to get out from in front of the fence,
"but nobody seemed to do it."
"People were terror-stricken. They were screaming and yelling. Some were trapped between parked cars they were sitting on and the fence," he said.
Another eyewitness, Charles David Franklin, said he saw one man on the ground with a fence post in his chest.
Bob Mitcham, Newton County Hospital administrator, identified the dead as:
HAROLD RUFFNER, 26, of Decatur, Georgia.
DOLLY HARRISON, 16, of Atlanta.
RONNIE JORDAN, 18, of Kennesaw, Georgia.
FRANK WESSINGER, 17, Bowdon, Georgia.
JEFF WATKINS, 9, Decatur, Georgia.
JIMMY BREEDLOVE, 17, Lawrenceville, Georgia.
KENNETH AKINS, 20, Graham, Alabama.
EDGAR LOFTIS, 65, Marion, North Carolina.
JAMES RICHARD BONNER, Greensboro, Georgia.
WELDON WINSLOW PRICE, 17, Union Point, Georgia.
LINDA DIANNE TINSLEY, 18, Atlanta.
Robert Clay, 20, of Covington, who witnessed the crash from the grandstand, said:
"I saw the car go out of control and saw fiberglass start flying through the air," he said, trembling as he waited at the Newton County Hospital. "I hollered for everybody to jump off the grandstand and just as I jumped I saw a piece (of fiberglass) hit a little boy in the head as his father picked him up."
"The little boy died in the car at the first red light," he said.
The Bridgeport Telegram Connecticut 1969-03-03
KENNETH STOWE, 19, Dacula, Georgia, died in an Atlanta Hospital on March 6, 1969.