A car taking part in a demolition derby at the Powell County Fairgrounds went out of control Sunday night and crashed through a fence in the only place where there were no barriers, killing an emergency medical technician and injuring seven others, authorities say.
“The driver had no control of his vehicle in those final moments,” Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said Monday. “He was unable to take any evasive action.”
Chase Davis, 23, was at the derby with a group of Job Corps friends and said it was only about a minute into the final event when things went wrong. He was recording video of the derby at the time. (See accompanying video).
“It sounded like the guy instantly revved up and he couldn’t stop or steer or anything,” Davis said. “It went straight into the crowd. You could hear the people get hit and then it hit a truck next to them and it was loud. It was pure pandemonium.”
The woman died at Deer Lodge Medical Center and one man was flown by helicopter to another hospital, Roselles said. Three people remained hospitalized in stable condition Monday afternoon.
One person left the hospital shortly after arriving and two others were treated and released. Roselles did not know where the one man was flown to.
The woman who died was 36-year-old DaryLynne Day of Anaconda, a Powell County Ambulance emergency medical technician. Services were pending with Longfellow Finnegan Riddle Funeral Home in Anaconda.
At 9:35 p.m. seven cars were competing in the final heat for the championship when "an unfortunate series of mechanical problems" caused one driver to lose control, Roselles said.
There were large, long logs lined up all around the arena but the car went through an area on the north side of the arena, where the derby vehicles enter onto the track, Roselles said. There was only a 6-foot chain-link fence at that spot and the car toppled over that, struck a small set of bleachers and came to a stop only when it struck a Sun Mountain Logging truck used to transport the barrier logs.
There were several people standing by the fence and others were sitting in the bleachers when the crash occurred.
“It was a freak incident and a chain of events that led to this unfortunate accident,” Roselles said. “It was just a bad series of events.”
The crowd fell completely silent for an instant, in stunned shock. Within seconds there was chaos at the crash scene. Two standby ambulances were on the scene as well as the Deer Lodge Fire Department. Medical personnel and firemen in the crowd rushed to assist victims. Some of the medical personnel, including Day, were right in the area where the crash occurred, said Roselles, who was also at the event.
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He added that many other people also rushed to the area, some desperately trying to find family members. He said the confusion made it difficult for medical personnel, and officers and firemen worked to try to keep the area cleared.
Three ambulances transported people to the hospital and some were taken by law enforcement.
For more than 20 years, the event has been an immensely popular finale to the Tri-County Fair, and this year the crowd was thought to be the largest ever, filling the grandstand and bleachers at both ends of the arena. Roselles said this is the first time any serious accident has occurred at the event.
Davis, who is from Oklahoma but is working for the Job Corps out of Anaconda, said he and his friends were just enjoying the demolition derby when the accident occurred.
“Everyone just immediately went to their feet and a bunch of people ran over to take care of people,” he said. “It was bad.”
Roselles said the demolition derby investigation is being done by the Sheriff's Office, the Deer Lodge Police Department and the Montana Highway Patrol.
He said, "Most importantly, our thoughts and prayers are for the victims, their families and the first responders."
Deer Lodge school counselor Renee Schoening, a licensed professional counselor for all ages and families, said, "I am concerned about the trauma experienced by those who witnessed the tragedy, especially the children. I will be available this week to provide crisis counseling for people , not just children, at no charge." Her telephone number is 406-491-2206.
The entire Deer Lodge community was in a state of shock Monday and many prayers were being offered for everyone involved.
The Chamber of Commerce sponsors the demolition derby, which is the major fundraising source for its annual budget. Many of the event organizers spent the night at the hospital, comforting victims, their family and friends.
On Monday, Chamber officers and Fair Board officers were in an emergency meeting and unavailable for comment.
During the aftermath of the tragedy on Sunday night, a one-vehicle rollover was reported at 10:03 p.m. on I-90, so law enforcement, an ambulance and fire department personnel responded. The driver was not injured, but was taken into custody on suspicion of DUI.