Fatal Mexico monster truck crash blamed on organizers, driver
Published Monday, October 7, 2013 3:42PM EDT
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- Mexican government officials and event organizers on Monday blamed the driver of a monster truck for losing control and plowing into a crowd of spectator, killing eight and injuring dozens. Motor-sports experts pointed to the organizers, saying the setup of the state-sponsored show was blatantly deficient and life-threatening.
Organizers of the "Extreme Aeroshow" said that hundreds of families had gathered without permission in what was supposed to be the pit area of the makeshift arena in a park in the capital of the border state of Chihuahua. One organizer said the spectators weren't moved because "crowd management is very difficult."
The pit area was unprotected by any barrier and sat feet from where the monster truck known as "Big Show" was crushing a pair of old cars, leaping into the air and rolling over their hoods and roofs. Video of the accident shows the truck coming down hard off the second car, bouncing, then speeding out of control into the crowd.
It was the second disaster in less than a month to focus attention on Mexico's patchy and loosely enforced system of consumer safety. Experts widely blamed much of the billions of dollars' worth of damage from Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid, which killed 157 people and displaced thousands, on the government's failure to prevent home construction in floodplains and enforce building standards for highways and bridges.
Chihuahua state Gov. Cesar Duarte and organizers of the weekend event tried to pin responsibility for the truck accident on the driver, saying he should only have driven in one direction over the cars, away from the pit area.
"He turned and came back in the wrong direction, came back to do a jump, and that's unfortunately where this accident happened," Duarte told Milenio Television Monday morning.
Duarte said the driver said he drank a couple of sips of beer, but didn't have enough alcohol in his blood to be considered intoxicated. He said the driver apparently hit his head and lost consciousness after crushing the parked cars, explaining why the truck continued to accelerate even after it hit the crowd Saturday afternoon.
Veteran monster-truck show organizers said spectators should never have been standing that close to the arena floor unprotected, regardless of the trajectory of the truck.
Properly organized shows take place in arena with as many as two dozen empty rows of seats between the trucks and the audience, and the vehicles are equipped with remote-controlled switches that can shut down a truck the moment something appears to be going wrong, said Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, whose Monster Jam is the world's largest touring monster truck show. That show appears in dozens of stadiums around the world each year, including in Mexico.
Payne, who saw video of Saturday's accident, said, "The setup at that event is not something we would ever, ever permit at one of our shows."
Jorge Cuesta, president of the group that organized the Chihuahua event, said it wasn't possible to prevent families from gathering in the pit area.
"Crowd management is very difficult," he told reporters in the state capital after the accident. "I was there and this is a tragedy that couldn't have been avoided."
Payne said his firm seals off the first rows of arenas, often several dozen of them, with a tent of orange cloth. If any spectators move into that area, "the show stops," he said. "We don't even let people put jackets on it."
Of the 79 hurt in the accident, a dozen remained in intensive care Monday, including Mague Flores Dominquez, whose ribs were broken and lung punctured when the truck ran over her.
"I haven't been able to calm myself down," said her husband, Daniel Dominguez, whose daughter also remained hospitalized with broken bones in her leg and back. Another daughter was treated and released. "I've just been thinking about what's happened to my little ones, and my wife."
Marty Garza, spokesman for the Monster Truck Racing Association, the industry's primary safety organization, described the safety situation at the Chihuahua event as "about as bad as it could get."
He said a remote shut-down system should have been triggered the moment the driver pointed his vehicle in the direction of the crowd.
"It would have been shut down before he ever even reached the crushed cars," Garza said.
He also said members of his organization would never have allowed spectators to sit at the end of the track.
"There was some pretty blatant disregard for the safety of spectators," he said. "There is no excuse for why the spectators were situated as they were, period."