The Transylvania Times -

Lawsuit Filed After Squirrel Box Derby Accident-Brevard


June 7, 2018

A lawsuit has been filed claiming the Transylvania County Board of Education, the Heart of Brevard and others were negligent in the May 27 accident during the Squirrel Box Derby races.

Tanne Trawick, one of six people who were injured during the accident, when one of the cars drove into them, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday at the Transylvania County Courthouse.

Another of the six, 66-year-old Gary Kendrick, died Saturday at Mission Hospital after sustaining head injuries in the accident.

Trawick is being represented by the Asheville-based Van Winkle Law Firm.

Lars Grothe and Tim Robinson, who are named as the car’s designers and builders in the lawsuit, are also listed as defendants in the case.

Trawick has requested damages “in excess of” $25,000 to be recovered from the defendants as a result of her injuries.

According to Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris, the accident took place after the car passed the finish line.

On the evening of the accident, Harris stated: “About 5 p.m., today (May 27), two racers were going down ‘Jailhouse Hill’ on Broad Street and one of the racers said he heard a ‘pop’ in his derby car, and said he immediately went right, striking six spectators. Of those six, one was treated at the scene, four went to Transylvania Regional Hospital and the fifth was flown to Mission Hospital.”

The 13-year-old driver was also treated on the scene for minor injuries.

According to the lawsuit, the Squirrel Box Derby is an event “organized, hosted, coordinated, governed and overseen by Transylvania County Schools under the direction of Kevin Smith, community relations coordinator for Transylvania County Schools.”

The derby is operated during the White Squirrel Festival, which is overseen by the Heart of Brevard.

According to the lawsuit, Trawick was “seriously and permanently” injured in the accident.

It stated that Grothe and Robinson “owned, designed and constructed” the car that, at “high speed,” hit Trawick and other “unprotected spectators.”

The car is identified as a red car under the name Team Lagati.

“The vehicle which struck the plaintiff is red and very fast, with large bicycle wheels and high-speed bearings,” according to the lawsuit. “The vehicle has won multiple times in past Squirrel Box Derbies for the adult speed event.”

Tires and hay bales lined the course during the event from the start to finish.

“Another line of tires and hay bales were erected at the end of the course across the two lanes at the very end of the run, preventing racers from crossing into the intersection with cars and pedestrians,” the lawsuit stated.

However, there were no barriers in the area where drivers reached their peak speed and had to brake the hardest before reaching the end, the lawsuit said.

“This barrier-free zone between finish line and the end of the course is where Team Lagati’s 13-year-old driver lost control of his vehicle and plowed at high speed into the tightly-packed crowd of spectators, including the plaintiff,” the lawsuit said.

It is in the “barrier-free” zone, the lawsuit said, where spectators gathered to watch the finish line, and where race officials were staged.

The lawsuit alleged that drivers complained to Smith before the race that the braking area, which had been shortened since previous years, was too short for a safe stop.

“On information and belief, the complaining drivers were told by Kevin Smith and others that the braking area would not be changed,” the lawsuit said.

It goes on to state that in previous years, drivers have spun out of control and hit the curb, or run onto the sidewalk, or hit the end-course hay bales, when trying to brake in such a short distance.

“Most of these happened at the very end of the safety barricade when drivers were trying to complete their stop before going through the road intersection beyond,” the lawsuit said. “On information and belief, in 2017, Team Lagati’s 13-year-old driver was driving the black Lagati vehicle when he spun out while braking during the children’s race, hitting the west sidewalk.”

The lawsuit stated that, in other soapbox derby races, there are “safety fences” that run from the start to the end, not stopping at the finish line.

The particular race in which the accident occurred, according to the lawsuit, was in the 18-plus age adult division, and alleged Smith was the person who allowed the 13-year-old driver to race in the adult class.

“The two children’s divisions start the race from only midway up Jailhouse Hill,” the lawsuit said. “Only the adult 18-plus division starts at the top of the hill, creating the highest speeds of all divisions and more risk and difficulty stopping at the end.”

The lawsuit said Grothe and Robinson were negligent by “designing, constructing and equipping a race vehicle that could not be operated safely under the conditions existing…and by permitting a 13-year-old boy to operate that vehicle at a high speed along a steep race course lined with tightly crowded and unsuspecting spectators.”

The lawsuit concluded by saying the Transylvania County Board of Education and the Heart of Brevard were negligent because they failed to provide “adequate barriers for the protection of spectators crowded together at the finish line, failing to provide a safe and sufficient area for racers to bring their vehicles to a safe and controlled stop after the finish line, permitting an inadequately equipped vehicle to be driven at high speed along a course lined with unprotected spectators, failing to warn spectators of the dangers posed by the conditions existing between the finish line and the end of the race course, and permitting a 13-year-old boy to operate a vehicle at a high speed along a steep race course lined with tightly crowded and unsuspecting spectators.”

School Superintendent Jeff McDaris was contacted for comment about the lawsuit.

“I really don’t have anything I can add at this time other than our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those involved,” he said. “We were deeply saddened over the weekend to hear that one of the individuals who was injured had passed away. We send our condolences to the family, and our thoughts and prayers are with all involved.”

Heath Seymour, the HOB’s executive director, said he was unaware of the lawsuit and declined to comment.


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