Witness: ``I Didn't Think Anybody Was Alive In There'' After Waltrip Accident

Wednesday, April 11th 2007, 7:42 pm
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ The witness who discovered Michael Waltrip's overturned car initially thought no one survived the accident until the NASCAR driver wiggled out the back window.

The witness, an 18-year-old college student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, requested anonymity during a phone interview Wednesday with The Associated Press for fear of reprisal from Waltrip's fan base.

But she said she lives near the two-time Daytona 500 winner in Sherrill's Ford, and stumbled upon the accident when she was returning home around 2 a.m. Saturday. She saw an overturned Toyota Land Cruiser in a ditch and rushed over to check on the occupants. She didn't see anyone in the car and no one answered her shouts, so she called 911 for help.

``After I got off the phone I was walking around the car again and somebody stuck their foot out the back driver side of the window,'' she said. ``That's when Michael Waltrip got out. He wiggled out the back window. I knew immediately it was him. He just got out the back driver side window and stood up.''

The witness said she asked Waltrip how long he'd been in the car and he told her about 10 minutes.

``He was bleeding from his forehead and had some cuts on his fingers and arms,'' she said. ``I told him `You are really lucky you are alive. I didn't think anybody was alive in there.' We sort of talked for a minute or two, and I told him 911 was on the way, and he just turned around and started walking home.

``I didn't know what to say or what to do. He had a T-shirt and sweat pants and socks on, he might have taken his shoes off in the car, but I wasn't sure. And he just turned around and started walking home in his socks.''

Waltrip was charged Saturday evening with reckless driving and failing to report an accident, both misdemeanors. He told police he fell asleep the wheel and woke up to find his car overturned in the gravel.

Waltrip has a May 14 court date in Newton on the charges.

NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said NASCAR would talk with Waltrip on Friday in Texas.

Waltrip had a scheduled interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, but a representative, Brooke Hondros, canceled it, saying Waltrip wasn't feeling well.

But in an interview with The Charlotte Observer, he said he was embarrassed for leaving the scene.

``I just feel stupid,'' he told the newspaper. ``I feel like an idiot because this one is all me.''

State trooper B.L. Buchanan said he arrived on the scene to find the wrecked SUV _ which had also hit a telephone pole _ but no Waltrip. He said he went to Waltrip's home to speak to him around 3 a.m., but was unsuccessful in locating the driver.

Hondros said Waltrip was showering in his pool house and didn't hear the police when they arrived.

Buchanan said his shift ended at 5 a.m., and he finally made contact with Waltrip at 8 p.m. Saturday when he returned to duty and Waltrip called him. The officer met him at Waltrip's home and issued the citation.

Waltrip told The Observer alcohol did not contribute to the accident.

``I didn't go home to avoid anything,'' he said. ``I just went there trying to figure out what to do.''

Waltrip is having a rough first year as a car owner.

He was caught cheating during Daytona 500 preparations when NASCAR found a fuel additive in his engine, and was docked a record 100 driver points. His crew chief was fined a record $100,000 and suspended indefinitely, as was his competition director.

Meanwhile, he has failed to qualify for the five races since the 500.

Dale Jarrett, who drives one of Waltrip's cars, has needed a provisional to make five of the six races this year and is currently 37th in the points. David Reutimann, his other driver, has failed to make two races and is 43rd in points.