Sunday, August 5, 2012
Updated: August 6, 12:42 PM ET
Lightning strike kills NASCAR fan
By David Newton
LONG POND, Pa. -- One fan was killed and nine others were injured as a result of lightning strikes following Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway.
Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen only identified the deceased as a 41-year-old man. Track officials said the fan was pronounced dead on arrival at Pocono Mountain Medical Center in Stroudsburg.
One other fan is in critical condition at Lehigh Hospital in Allentown. The other eight are being treated and evaluated for minor injuries at local hospitals.
Track spokesman Bob Pleban said nine fans, including the fatality, were injured from a strike that occurred in a parking lot behind the main grandstand shortly before 5 p.m. The other came from a strike near Gate 3 between Turns 1 and 2.
Patricia Westfall of Virginia told ESPN.com the fatal strike occurred near a tent around Gate 11. Although Westfall didn't see the strike, "I could tell it hit something."
She said paramedics and police were on the scene immediately.
Westfall said she saw a man on a stretcher "looking in severe pain, and there was another man like holding him down so he wouldn't fall off."
"It was quite scary," she added. "The lightning was bright blue and purple, and you heard it on impact instantly."
Other fans performed CPR on the victim, the Pocono Record reported, but were unsuccessful in reviving the victim. Paramedics were also unsuccessful in their attempts.
Allen said the victim was pronounced dead at 7 p.m., according to the newspaper.
The strikes came right after the scheduled 160-lap race was called for rain on Lap 98. Race winner Jeff Gordon was on his way to Victory Lane when the strike behind the grandstand occurred.
"We were walking down pit road, the umbrellas weren't doing any good," Gordon said. "There was a huge, huge crack from lightning. You could tell it was very close."
Gordon, not aware of the fatality, said the incident dampened a win that ended his 31-race losing streak and put him in position for one of two wild-card spots.
"I mean, the fans here are so loyal and avid," Gordon said. "When we were going back to the garage area, there was a group of fans chanting up there that were not leaving.
"That's just so unfortunate because they're so loyal and avid here, so you hate to hear something like that. Certainly our thoughts are with them. I hope everything is OK."
Pleban said a warning was issued on the public address system shortly before the strikes that inclement weather was on the way, but no order was given to evacuate the stands.
"We made every effort to inform everyone," he said.
Pocono aceway issued a warning on Twitter and Facebook at 4:21 p.m. that severe weather was on the way. Shortly before 5 p.m. the track issued another warning via the social media sites for fans to seek shelter because heavy winds and lightning were in the area.
Westfall said she heard warnings over the public address system shortly before the lightning struck, "and I'm pretty sure they told everyone to get out of the stands."
Spectator Sandy Terronez said she followed what other fans were saying on Twitter, but heard nothing over the public address system.
"Everybody was just running for their lives," Terronez said. "Every time a lightning strike hit everybody was just screaming and running everywhere. It was scary. We're still shaking from it."
It is the call of NASCAR officials on when to stop a race with inclement weather in the area. It is up to track officials to warn fans of impending weather and determine an evacuation process.
On Sunday night, both NASCAR and track officials released statements sending their condolences to the victims and their families.