September 7, 2010

Harness racing accident injures 5

Three taken to hospital

By Gary Hawkins
Staff Writer

WINDSOR -- Five harness racing fans were injured at Windsor Fair on Monday when they were struck by the starting gate just after the beginning of the 13th race.

click image to enlarge

People attend to victims struck by the racing gate at the start of the 13th race Monday at the Windsor Fair. The gate, towed by a vehicle ahead of the pack of horses, hit five people watching the race.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Three of the fans were taken by ambulance to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta while the other two were treated at the scene. The fans were standing along the rail about 50 yards beyond the starting line when they were struck by the gate as the pickup truck it was mounted upon was leaving the track.

Elaine Bennett of Ashland was one of the spectators treated at the scene.

"I was standing here watching the race and all of a sudden it looked like something silver was coming. I turned my head . . . and it hit the side of my face."

Bennett identified one of those taken to the hospital as Gary LaFreniere of Skowhegan. Names of the other two were not released.

"There's Gary's glasses right there," Bennett said, pointing to the side of the race track. "The guy beside Gary was taking pictures I believe and his glasses are down there a ways."

Also struck in the accident was Michael King of West Gardiner, who was treated for an injury to his arm. King said he had no time to react.

"I turned my head . . . " he said. "When I saw it, it hit me. It hit my arm and spun me around. I'm OK."

According to Windsor race director Bill McFarland, the retractable gates are made of steel. They are used to hold the horses back until the starting line, then as they retract, the truck veers right toward an exit just off the first turn about 200 yards away.

"That is the critical zone, from the start until they get settled down in the first turn," McFarland said.

The truck is traveling 30-35 mph, said McFarland who said he's never seen an accident of this kind at Windsor. The gates are closed manually by the driver of the vehicle. This year the gates were provided by Maine Gate while Penn National contracted for the gates last year at Windsor.

"Last year we were able to use a newer gate that wasn't available this year," McFarland said.

Ray Chavarie, director of Windsor Rescue, confirmed three victims were transported to the hospital in three ambulances. There are usually two at the fair, although one of those is exclusively for accidents on the race track.

"If we use that ambulance, the races would have stopped," McFarland said.

The track's rescue vehicle though, was unavailable.

"Unfortunately, the first day of the fair it went kaput and it's been in the repair shop," Chavarie said. "The problem was we required three ambulances to transport people. The first two were here in a short period of time. They got here as soon as they could."

Gary Hawkins -- 621-5638


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