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Although 50 to 60 people were injured in all, some of those were just superficial cuts and bruises, said the Washington County director of emergency management.
People help a person who was hit by a car during a parade Saturday at Trail Days in Damascus, Va. Trail Days celebrates the Appalachian Trail.
Emergency crews and witnesses respond after a car drove into a parade at the Trail Days festival in Damascus, Va., on Saturday.
A hiker who goes by Quinoa said he ran Carson Blackburn, Dalton Thomason and Faith Ritchie off the road with a water gun moments before a car struck a crowd at the parade in Damascus, Va.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Damascus Town Councilwoman Peg Ayers said it was a “chilling” sight on Saturday when tragedy struck one of the small town’s most popular festivals.
A man plowed a car into a parade of hikers at the Damascus Trail Days festival, an annual celebration of the Appalachian Trail that brings thousands of travelers to the small town that lies near the Tennessee state line.
An emergency official said nine people were taken to the hospital and 50 to 60 people were injured in the crash.
It happened shortly after 2 p.m. during the Hiker’s Parade.
“It was really shocking because it’s such a happy time for us there,” said Ayers. “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
Ayers was at Trail Days when the crash happened and said word spread quickly.
Washington County director of emergency services Pokey Harris said there were no fatalities, but nine people were taken to area hospitals, four of whom were airlifted.
More than 50 people were injured in the crash, with injuries ranging from superficial cuts and bruises to critical, Harris said.
She said the driver of the car, who witnesses describe as an elderly man, possibly had a medical condition that caused him to accelerate into the parade by accident.
At a news conference Saturday evening, Damascus Police Chief Bill Nunley didn’t release the driver’s name or age but said he was participating in the parade and he had traversed the Appalachian Trail in the past.
Nunley said the man’s 1997 Cadillac was one of the last vehicles in the parade, and the driver might have suffered an unspecified medical problem when his car accelerated to about 25 mph and struck the crowd on a two-lane bridge along the town’s main road.
The driver was among those taken to hospitals.
“It is under investigation and charges may be placed,” Nunley said.
Because organizers expect so many people at Trail Days, Harris said a lot of emergency personnel were already on the scene.
Ambulances and paramedics responded immediately because they were in the parade.
As a result, Harris said, there was “nothing truly chaotic” after the police chief assumed command, in spite of the dozens injured.
“This is one of the events that they do prepare for because it brings so many people,” said Harris. “We know to ramp up staff resources.”
Nunley cited the “quick action” by police, firefighters, paramedics and hikers to tend to the victims, including a Damascus volunteer firefighter who dove into the car to turn off the ignition. The firefighter, whose name wasn’t released, suffered minor injuries.
The status of the driver was not released. Nunley said the driver was a hiker, too — someone who had traversed the Appalachian Trial in the past.
On Saturday afternoon, Teresa Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mountain States Health Alliance, said seven people were taken to Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, none with life-threatening injuries, and the hospital does not expect any more patients.
Hicks said patients with the most serious injuries probably would be taken to Bristol Regional Medical Center in Tennessee.
Jim Wozniak, a spokesman for Wellmont Health System, said Bristol Regional Medical Center received at least two patients who were in good condition Saturday afternoon.
Harris said Saturday evening that everyone with injuries was in stable condition or better.
Witnesses said the car had a handicapped parking sticker and it went more than 100 feet before coming to a stop.
“He was hitting hikers,” said Vickie Harmon of Damascus. “I saw hikers just go everywhere.”
Amanda Puckett, who was watching the parade with her children, ran to the car, where she and others lifted the car off those pinned underneath.
“Everybody just threw our hands up on the car and we just lifted the car up,” she said.
Keith Neumann, a hiker from South Carolina, said he was part of the group that scrambled around the car.
They pushed the car backward to free a woman trapped underneath and lifted it off the ground to make sure no one else was trapped.
“There’s no single heroes. We’re talking about a group effort of everybody jumping in,” he said.
Mayor Jack McCrady encouraged people to attend the festival today, its final day this year.
“In 27 years of this, we’ve never had anything of this magnitude, and is it our job to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
McCrady said a donation fund was being set up to assist the injured, some of whom don’t have medical insurance.
“We want to make sure they don’t suffer any greater loss than they already have,” he said.
Ayers said a moment of silence was held Saturday evening at the festival for everyone injured and that Trail Days will continue because of the quick and effective work of the police, emergency service crews and other hikers who helped out.
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