Brooklyn, MI Spectators Killed At Champ Car Race, Jul 1998


Brooklyn, Mich. (AP) - The three spectators killed and six injured by a flying tire and debris during the U.S. 500 probably never saw it coming.
"Just for a split second, out of the corner of my eye, I caught what looked like something flying," said Mark Kuyers, a spectator from Holland, Mich., who was sitting nearby when the tire and other debris sailed into the stands and struck nine people.
It came from the car driven by Adrian Fernandez, who lost control and slammed hard into the fourth-turn wall.
"I think the people that got hit didn't even see it coming," Kuyers said. "It was completely a freak thing. The tire bounced a couple of times and landed in the walk-way."
MICHAEL TERRY TAUTKUS, 49, and SHERYL ANN LASTER, 40, both of Milan, Mich.; and KENNETH DALE FOX, 38, of Lansing, were killed in the accident, said Lenawee County Sheriff Richard Germond.
Dr. Gregory Baumann, the chief medical director at Michigan Speedway, said two of the people died instantly from the impact of the debris. The third person was taken to a track medical unit, where resuscitation failed.
The spectator deaths were the first in a racing accident at a major event in the United States in more than a decade.
Spectators sitting nearby in the packed stands said the tire did most of the tragic damage, bounding high off the top of the catch-fencing, slamming down and killing two people, then bouncing further up the grandstand into another knot of fans watching the Champ car race at Michigan Speedway.
Tim VanderMel, of Waynesville, N.C., sitting close to Kuyers, said, "I was watching (the tire) come toward the stands and, as people saw it coming down, they just started scrambling. It was almost like it was in slow motion."
Both said track security and medical personnel were on the scene almost immediately. They quickly cleared the grandstand where the tire hit.
The race went on, with few of the teams and drivers, as well as most of the about 50,000 spectators unaware of the tragedy. The crowd was on its feet and cheering when Greg Moore made the last of a record-shattering 62 lead changes on the final lap and held off Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi for the victory.
None of the six injuries was more serious than a fractured leg and four of the people were treated and released after being transported by ambulance to Foote Memorial Hospital in Jackson, about 30 miles from the track. The two who were admitted were in stable condition.
The tire and debris cleared a concrete wall and a catch fence before striking the spectators.
"The wall is 4 feet above the track surface and there's 11 feet of fence and cable," explained Greg Penske, president of Penske Motorsports Inc., which owns the track. "So there's 15 feet from the track surface to the top of the fence. One of the victims was in row eight and another was in approximately row 10."

The Paris News Texas 1998-07-27