July 9, 2006 in Nation/World

Driver ‘panicked,’ injuring dozens at summer festival

Susan Haigh Associated Press
 

NEW LONDON, Conn. – An 89-year-old man driving through a crowd at a summer festival panicked after striking one pedestrian and lurched his station wagon through the throng, injuring 27 people, city officials and witnesses said.

Ned Lamont, who is challenging three-term incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Aug. 8 Democratic primary, and several campaign workers were among those in the crowd.

Lamont, who was campaigning at the festival, was not injured, but three of the staffers were treated for various injuries, spokeswoman Liz Dupont-Diehl said.

The accident happened about 3:30 p.m. near the Amtrak station during New London’s Sailfest summer festival, where a crowd had gathered on both sides of warning gates as a train passed, witnesses said. Once the train departed and the gates lifted, the pedestrians and the Chevrolet Caprice wagon both began to cross.

Mayor Elizabeth Sabilia said the driver, Robert Laine, was driving across the tracks to get to the Fishers Island ferry when his car struck a pedestrian.

“He panicked,” she said.

The car then lurched through the crowd, which witnesses said was about four- or five-people deep.

“People were facing the tracks and didn’t see the car coming,” witness Bill Hoezel told the Day of New London. “The car was moving probably 10 to 15 miles per hour, much quicker than someone trying to edge through a crowd. There was no warning and no screaming, just thump-thump-thump as the bodies were hit.”

The injured were taken to Lawrence and Memorial Hospital and all were expected to be treated and released by late Saturday night, hospital spokesman Kelly Anthony said.

Laine, of Wallingford, and a female passenger were not injured.

Terrie Castagna, 43, a former paramedic, helped with first aid until emergency crews arrived. She said Laine told her the gas pedal in his car was stuck.

“He was shaken. He was in shock,” she said.

Police said it was premature to point to a cause and were still interviewing witnesses and many of those struck. Investigators will also look at any video that may have been captured by surveillance cameras used by Amtrak and the Fishers Island ferry.

“It was a very chaotic scene,” police Capt. Kenneth Edwards said. “There were luckily a large number of emergency personnel in the area.”

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