6 Killed By Drag Car At Charity Festival

The aftermath of a vehicle accident is seen Saturday, June 16, 2007, in Selmer, Tenn. A drag-racing vehicle lost control during a parade and spun into a crowd of bystanders on Saturday, killing four people and injuring up to 15, authorities said.
AP/Independent Appeal, R. Ingle
There were no guard rails between the crowds of spectators and a public highway where a drag-racing car bolted out of control, killing six people during a charity fundraising event in Tennessee.

Jimmy Hollingsworth watched the accident happen. "I mean he was just going back through there, and it was like he was throwing people up like it was a deck of cards," he said.

Authorities on Sunday identified the driver as pro drag racer Troy Warren Critchley, an Australian who is now based in Wylie, Texas. He suffered minor injuries and was taken by car to a nearby hospital for treatment.

There were no criminal charges against Critchley, Browning said.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol declined to make any statement Sunday about road conditions or safety procedures during the Saturday evening parade of cars.

"It ain't really safe to do anything with drag cars on a city street," said 19-year-old spectator Garett Moore, who said he was about 15 feet away from the wreck, but was uninjured. "They shouldn't have done it."

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 5-year-old boy, who were taken to hospitals in Tennessee and Mississippi.

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

The crash happened during an "exhibition burnout" — when a drag racer spins his tires fast enough to make them smoke — at the Cars for Kids charity event in Selmer, located about 80 miles east of Memphis.

On amateur video of the crash, broadcast on WMC-TV in Memphis, the car's engine is heard revving loudly before the vehicle speeds down the highway. After a few hundred feet, the car skidded off the road in front of a drive-in restaurant.

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

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

"As far as safety goes, from what I saw, there wasn't any," said Jeff Burk, a writer for dragracingonline.com. "This was James Dean driving off the edge of the cliff."

Drivers of other dragsters in the parade had been spinning their tires 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."

Nick Staples, who was at the show with his wife and three children from Columbus, Mississippi, said he was standing 20 feet from where the car plowed into the audience.

"There should have been guard rails," Staples 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.

About 40,000 to 60,000 people had been expected to attend the weekend event.

After a parade of everything from antique cars to modern dragsters, Moore thought the show was over.

"I was about to head across the street, and I saw him barreling toward us," he said.

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

Critchley's Web site 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 Web site carried a message saying it was not available.

Cars for Kids holds several events throughout the nation and raises close to $200,000 annually for charities that help children in need, according to its Web site.

A statement posted on the Web site Sunday 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."

The charity was formed in 1990, two years after founder Larry Price's son, Chad, suffered a severe head injury in a bicycle accident. Price promised that if his son was saved from lifelong injuries, he would spend the rest of his life raising funds for disabled children, according to the Web site.