90 Injured After Walkway Collapses

Sunday, May 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — A concrete pedestrian walkway spanning a four-lane highway collapsed, injuring more than 90 people — at least 13 critically — as they left a NASCAR race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The 30-foot section of the 15-foot-high bridge, which connects the track to a parking lot, snapped in half and fell onto the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 29 at about 11:15 p.m. Saturday. There wasn't any traffic on the highway at the time, track spokesman Jerry Gappens said Sunday.

``Everybody just started sliding down it like it was a sliding board, and they all ended on top of each other,'' Tina Condrey of Spartanburg told The Charlotte Observer.

``Everybody then started just running everywhere. Some of the people looked like they were hurt real bad.''

Several victims were airlifted to hospitals in Concord and Charlotte. The injuries ranged from bruises and broken bones and head and spinal injuries, hospital officials said.

``We don't know the conditions of all the people injured,'' track president H.A. ``Humpy'' Wheeler said. ``There were some injured in a minor way and we had some, obviously, injured in a major way but we don't know the total extent of that.''

Witnesses said bodies were lying on the ground and people were helping emergency workers attend to the injured.

``Just a lot of people went down and some of them were elderly so you don't know how bad it is,'' said Ed Walker of Columbia, S.C., who said he crossed over the bridge and heard it snap. ``People were hollering. The first reaction was to account for everybody you were with.''

Northeast Medical Center in Concord treated 50 people, spokeswoman Carol Lovin said. Sixteen had been released by early Sunday morning. Sixteen had undergone or were scheduled for surgery, she said.

``The predominant injuries are orthopedic injuries,'' Lovin said. ``We've had numerous fractures .... We've had head injuries, we've had spinal cord injuries.''

Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte treated about 28 patients, said spokeswoman Kirstin Bass. University Hospital treated 12 people, and Rowan Regional Medical Center had 10.

The accident occurred at about the same time Dale Earnhardt Jr. won The Winston, which drew 180,000 spectators.

``We just felt something that felt like an earthquake,'' Kevin Sanders of Atlanta told the Observer. ``We were all scared for our lives.''

The bridge was built around 1995 to better facilitate pedestrian traffic flow at the speedway, Wheeler said. A two-mile section of the highway remained closed Sunday as crews prepared to remove the broken bridge and debris from the roadway, and state transportation engineers evaluated another walkway and tried to determine why the bridge collapsed.

``All we can do right now is pray for the people who were seriously injured,'' Wheeler said.