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Car crashes into parade; 50-60 injured

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 8:45 p.m.
Emergency personnel help one of the people hit by a car (at right) during the beginning of the Hikers Parade at the Trail Days festival in Damascus, Va., Saturday, May 18, 2013.

DAMASCUS, Va. — About 50 to 60 people were injured on Saturday when a driver described by witnesses as an elderly man drove his car into a group of hikers marching in a parade in a small Virginia mountain town.

It happened around 2:10 p.m. during the Hikers Parade at the Trail Days festival, an annual celebration of the Appalachian Trail in Damascus, near the Tennessee state line about a half-hour's drive east of Bristol.

Washington County director of emergency management Pokey Harris said no fatalities had been reported.

The injuries ranged from critical to superficial, he said. Three of the victims were flown by helicopters to regional hospitals. Another 12 to 15 were taken by ambulance. The rest were treated at the scene.

At a news conference, Damascus police Chief Bill Nunley did not release the driver's name or age but said he was participating in the parade. Multiple witnesses described him as an elderly man.

Nunley said the man's 1997 Cadillac was one of the last vehicles in the parade and the driver might have suffered an unspecified medical problem when his car accelerated to about 25 mph and struck the crowd on a two-lane bridge along the town's main road. The driver was among those taken to hospitals.

“It is under investigation and charges may be placed,” Nunley said.

There were ambulances in the parade ahead of the hikers and paramedics on board immediately responded to the crash.

Nunley cited the “quick action” by police, firefighters, paramedics and hikers to tend to the victims, including a Damascus volunteer firefighter who dived into the car to turn off the ignition. The firefighter, whose name was not released, suffered minor injuries.

Nunley said about 1,000 people participated in the parade. The chief said the driver was a hiker, too — someone who had traversed the Appalachian Trail in the past.

What caused the car to drive into the crowd was not immediately known. A thud could be heard, people yelled “Stop!” and at some point, the car finally stopped.

Witnesses said the car had a handicapped parking sticker, and it went more than 100 feet before coming to a stop.

“He was hitting hikers,” said Vickie Harmon, a witness from Damascus. “I saw hikers just go everywhere.”

Damascus resident Amanda Puckett, who was watching the parade with her children, ran to the car, where she and others lifted the vehicle off those pinned underneath.

“Everybody just threw our hands up on the car, and we just lifted the car up,” Puckett said.

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