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Accident at Mercer County track kills man

| Monday, April 2, 2007

The death of a man watching a stock car race at a Mercer County track was "a blatant, freak accident," the victim's father said Sunday.

Steven W. Guthrie Jr., 25, of Jones Street in Mercer, was pronounced dead at 10:49 p.m. Saturday at Grove City Medical Center by Mercer County Deputy Coroner Charles Ziegler.

Another race fan, Sam Ketchum of Jackson Center, Mercer County, was flown by helicopter from the race track and reported to be in critical condition Sunday at Allegheny General Hospital, North Side.

State police said a car involved in the race hit a barrier at Turn 3 at Mercer Raceway Park in Findley and the barrier hit Guthrie. An ambulance crew on standby at the track took him to the hospital, police said.

The accident occurred during opening night races for the 2007 season at the 56-year-old track, located three miles north of Interstate 80, off Route 19 on Fairground Road.

The elder Guthrie, who races at the track, said he saw the accident happen. The younger Guthrie is a member of his father's race crew.

"I was up in the grandstand after getting my car ready to race," said Guthrie's father, Steven Guthrie Sr., of Franklin, Venango County. "It was a blatant, freak accident, that's all."

Vicki Emig, who has owned the three-eighths mile clay oval track since January 1999, wouldn't talk about the accident, saying an investigation was under way.

"We are still trying to gather information, so I can't give out any information," Emig said.

A state police spokesman at the Mercer barracks confirmed an investigation was continuing.

The driver of the stock car involved in the accident was Rick Lanigan, of Sandy Lake, Mercer County, according to race scorer Marcie Barlow. Lanigan lost control of his stock car on lap 13 of the 20-lap race, Barlow said

"Apparently, Rick hit a barrier with the rear of the car, and from what I understand, it fell on the fans who were in the pits," Barlow said. "The drivers were told to shut off their engines, and the race was called."

Lanigan is an experienced driver, having in 2006 at Mercer Raceway alone competed in four heats, four feature races and one consolation race, according to the Mercer Raceway Park Web site.

Lanigan couldn't be reached for comment.

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