Fan reflects on Daytona crash

Updated: February 28, 2013, 7:55 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Whitney Turner didn't expect to be carted off on a stretcher when she went to Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

But when Kyle Larson's car went airborne into the catch fence a few feet from where she stood on the front stretch, all the 33-year-old fan from Tell City, Ind., could think was, "I'm going to die."

"I expect to go to a race and enjoy myself," Turner told ESPN.com on Thursday. "The drivers should be protected as well as the fans. I expect that fence to protect me from anything that may happen on the other side of the fence."

At least 28 fans were injured by debris that came through the catch fence during the last-lap crash that Turner described as a "horror movie that played out in real life."

Turner is one of three that have retained Orlando, Fla.-based law firm Morgan & Morgan to seek compensation for medical bills and pain and suffering.

I can tell you that I love NASCAR, I love racing. I live it. I breathe it. I'm a Jimmie Johnson fan. I'm never going to change that. But I can tell you that I do have nightmares about it and I do think about it every day and I'm thankful I'm alive.

-- Fan Whitney Turner, who was injured during crash at Daytona International Speedway

"I have limited people to help me," said Turner, a single mother of a 5-year-old daughter, as she explained why she retained attorney Matt Morgan. "I don't want sympathy from anybody. All I want is to know that I'm taken care of and that my family is taken care of and I can just get back to normal one day."

The fibula in Turner's right leg was shattered when she was hit by a piece of debris not far from where the engine of Larson's car came through the catch fence at the crossover gate. Turner isn't sure if she was struck by the engine or a large piece of metal found near her.

She also suffered a sliced Achilles tendon.

"I thought, 'What the hell. I'm going to die. This is it. This is the last time I'm going be able to pick up my daughter,'" Turner said as she recalled the incident. "I had so many emotions running through my head.

"And then whenever I got up and was in my seat I started looking around. I thought, 'These people need help. Please help us.' And then I started screaming for help."

Turner is back home in Indiana after what she called a painful two-day ride in the back seat of her father's Chevrolet Silverado. She said that was her only option for the return trip that normally takes 13 hours.

"My dad's disabled, so he couldn't really get me in and out of the truck," she said. "It took a few days to get back because it's really painful riding in the back of that truck."

Turner picked up a wheelchair on Thursday because her leg is too swollen for a cast. She also plans to be fitted for a walker, followed by an undetermined amount of rehabilitation.

Her attorney is focusing his investigation on the fencing. He disagrees with cynics that say his clients are taking advantage of the legal system for financial gain, who say they don't deserve compensation because a waiver on the back of tickets that states the fan assumes all risk.

"There are going to be medical bills that are going to start piling up on her," Morgan said of Turner. "That's her primary focus to get those medical bills paid.

"It's very easy for these cynics to talk from 5,000 feet above the situation. If they were the ones that were injured, if they were the ones sitting in the hospital with a shattered leg, the tune they would be singing would be much different."

Turner was sitting on the front row not far from the crossover gate when she heard fans screaming that a crash had begun as the race cars came out of Turn 4. When she stood to get a better look, she saw the underside of Larson's car coming at her.

"I took off running," Turner said. "Before I knew it I was already hit by flying debris. People were screaming. Stuff was on fire. There was oil and antifreeze, hot burning stuff all over the place."

The two most seriously injured were struck by a tire that apparently went through, according to videos, the catch fence at the gate. They remain hospitalized at Halifax Health near the track.

Turner still gets emotional rehashing the scene.

"I can tell you that I love NASCAR, I love racing." Turner said. "I live it. I breathe it. I'm a Jimmie Johnson fan. I'm never going to change that. But I can tell you that I do have nightmares about it and I do think about it every day and I'm thankful I'm alive."

NASCAR is conducting its own investigation into the accident in conjunction with Daytona track officials. Neither party is commenting on potential legal action because no suit has been filed.

Chairman Brian France told ESPN.com before Sunday's Daytona 500, before Morgan had been retained, that lawsuits were "the last things on our minds.''

A NASCAR spokesperson said an update on the investigation is expected at this weekend's race in Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Turner still wonders what happened to the cameraman that was standing a few feet from her when debris started flying through the fence.

"I remember people screaming, bleeding," she said. "It was just a horrific experience. I don't know what happened to that camera guy. I pray for him every day."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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