Police Question Nascars Fatal Crash Inquiries

CONCORD, N.H. -- Police are angry that New Hampshire International Speedway failed to tell them about the crash deaths of two NASCAR drivers, and in one case moved the car before local authorities arrived.

"If there is an untimely death, certainly they have to tell us," Robert Fiske, police chief of Loudon, N.H., said Tuesday. "We need to know it so we can investigate it."

Fiske said he didn't find out about the deaths at the Loudon track of Adam Petty in May and Kenny Irwin in July until several hours later. In Petty's case, he learned of the death when he saw a news item on television. The medical examiner called him about Irwin.

"By law, we have to do an investigation on any untimely death just to rule out any wrongdoing," Fiske said. "That's the only role we play in it."

Track owner Bob Bahre defended his decision not to call local police, saying the department had hired sheriff's deputies to be at the events and it was up to them to make the notification.

Bahre also said the track had to move Irwin's car after the crash, but that doing so had not hindered the police investigation.

"Everybody in the world knows this was a stuck throttle," he said. "I'm telling you what the crew chief told me. The one thing about NASCAR is they are real tough on safety. Nobody wants this to happen."

The cause of both crashes remains under investigation.

Fiske said he is considering stationing his officers in the track's garage area during future Winston Cup events at the speedway's expense to prevent similar problems. Bahre said the officers would be welcome.

New Hampshire law does not appear to mandate that the speedway contact local police when accidents or deaths occur, according to Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards. Exactly whose responsibility that is also is unclear, she said.

"That's a very interesting question," Edwards said. "It makes sense they should be notified."

Because the track has its own ambulance and hospital on site, it also is unclear whether it must call local emergency officials, Edwards said.

One thing the law does make clear, however, is that local police have jurisdiction in the crash investigation, Edwards said.

"NASCAR is not a government entity," she said.
"They have the ability to do their own investigation, but Loudon police should, too, under New Hampshire law."

State police agree local police have jurisdiction over crashes at the Loudon speedway. However, they believe the crashes should be put in the perspective of the sport.

"We're going to stay right out of it," said State Police Maj. Mark Furlone. "We look at it as an inherent risk of the sport."

Kevin Triplett, NASCAR director of operations, said accidents at speedways should not be treated the same as on roads.

"We in no way say we are more powerful or have more authority than the local law enforcement," Triplett said from his Daytona Beach, Fla., office. "But it is on a track at an event we sanction. These are the differences between the sport and transportation."

He said NASCAR officials were cooperative with Loudon police when they contacted the track about the crashes.

"We're not aware of anything we did wrong," Triplett said.

NASCAR has taken steps to help drivers avoid stuck throttles. The stock car sanctioning body has told its Winston Cup teams to install a stop on the car's throttle assembly and an on-off switch on the steering wheel, within reach of the driver's thumb.

Though no conclusions have been reached, there has been considerable speculation that the crashes at NHIS that killed Petty and Irwin were the result of stuck throttles.

Petty, a 19-year-old fourth-generation race driver, died May 12 in a crash in Turn 3 on the 1.058-mile oval during a practice for a Busch Series race. Irwin, a regular in the Winston Cup series, was killed in a crash during practice on July 7 at nearly the same spot.

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