DA: Car show probe looks beyond driver
By: By WOODY BAIRD Associated Press Writer
A grand jury expected to consider criminal charges in a race-car crash that killed six spectators at a summer festival in Selmer won’t focus only on the car’s driver.
“We are considering possible criminal responsibility by other people” as well, said state prosecutor Michael Dunavant.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol investigation into the crash should wrap up by the first of the year, Dunavant said, and go before a McNairy County grand jury in February.
“I’m not going to name those people or their involvement or the amount of evidence we have,” Dunavant said. “(But) I am considering charging more than just the driver.”
The powerful dragster was being put through tire-burning stunts on an open city street on June 16 as part of a car-show festival organized by Cars for Kids, a charity founded by Selmer resident Larry Price.
Blasting off in a cloud of smoke, the dragster spun into a crowd of unprotected spectators, sending bodies flying. Six young people died and more than two dozen other spectators were hurt, many seriously.
“The (highway patrol), for the most part, has completed its diagrams and measurements of the scene and now we’re really just trying to coordinate all of that evidence,” Dunavant said in an interview Wednesday.
Experts hired by the state are still going over the car looking for mechanical defects, and other specialists are still reviewing medical records of the injured and autopsy reports on the dead.
“There are literally hundreds of witnesses who had to be questioned,” Dunavant said. “There are multiple layers of the investigation and it’s still ongoing.”
The crash has led so far to 16 lawsuits seeking more than $120 million in damages.
The suits, filed by crash victims or their families, put most of the blame for the deaths and injuries on the city of Selmer; race-car driver Troy Critchley of Texas; AMS Staff Leasing Inc., the car’s owner; and Price and his charity organization.
The lawsuits contend Critchley was reckless, festival organizers had no business staging such a dangerous event and the city should not have allowed it.
City Attorney Terry Abernathy declined comment, as did Critchley’s lawyer, William Reid of Dallas. Critchley, an Australian, has limited his public exposure since the crash.
Car-show organizer Price has described the crash as an unforeseeable accident and accused spectators of ignoring police warnings to stand back from the street.
Lawyer Lewis Cobb, who filed a $10 million lawsuit for the family of Scarlett Replogle, a 15-year-old killed by the race car, said he, too, is waiting on the Highway Patrol’s report.
“I’ve got more lawsuits to file, but I want to sue the right people,” Cobb said. “It’s a classic example of everybody pointing the finger at everybody else.
“The driver took bankruptcy in Dallas, and nobody will admit being his employer. Nobody admits to having any insurance, either, or having any money.”
But no amount of money could repay his clients for their loss, he said, and the possibility of a financial payoff isn’t the only reason for filing suit.
“If no one holds people accountable for these kinds of decisions, then these kinds of decisions will be repeated,” Cobb said.
Also killed in the crash were Nicole Griswell, 19; Raven Griswell, 15; Sean Michael Driskill, 22; Brook L. Pope, 20; and Kimberly A. Barfield, 17.
Published in The Messenger on 11.19.07
race-car crash, Selmer, Tennessee Highway Patrol