Terror at the Regatta

Madison Regatta canceled
when car crashes into crowd
an hour before final race

18-year-old driver claims he blacked out

By Don Ward

(July 3, 2006) – After a weekend of bad luck trying to stage the 55th annual Madison Regatta in high, debris-ridden Ohio River water, Regatta officials perhaps thought they had seen it all.
But the worst was yet to come.
At 4:15 p.m. Sunday, July 2, just an hour from the scheduled start of the final race of the weekend for the Indiana Governor's Cup, tragedy struck in the crowd lining the riverbank. A 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo suddenly came barreling down Jefferson Street at a high rate of speed, plowing into the pit road barricade, mowing over a security golf cart and dragging it down the riverbank and into the crowd before coming to rest in the river. Spectators screamed warnings as many jumped out of the way to avoid being struck by the car.


Photo by Jim Chagares

Rescue workers and spectators
help secure the car after the
driver and passenger were
pulled from inside while
it partially submerged.

Once the car reached Vaughn Drive, it careened through a security tent checkpoint, and then down the embankment of an unpopulated area of the easternmost pits. But it then veered left and crashed through a security fence where it struck the victims before entering the water.
Volunteer fire rescue workers, police, divers and spectators rushed into the river to pull the driver and a passenger out of the partially submerged car, while others tended to the injured along the riverbank.
Less than an hour after the accident, Regatta and American Boat Racing Association officials, Madison Mayor Al Huntington and police chief Bob Wolf held an impromptu press conference to announce they had canceled the final race. Everyone's attention turned to rescuing 10 injured people, including the driver and passenger, and rushing them to the hospital.
Ambulance sirens blared along the riverbank as spectators were asked to clear Vaughn Drive and let them pass. People stood in amazement watching as a human chain formed in the water to search for possible missing people. The car's driver, 18-year-old Michael Bowen of 4466 N. State Road 62, Madison, was treated at King's Daughters' Hospital for a head injury, then flown to the University of Louisville Hospital. He was listed in stable condition on Monday and was expected to be released Tuesday.
No one could explain how the bizarre accident occurred. Chief Wolf reported that the car had been seen north of Main Street, then crossed Main Street and sped down Jefferson Street toward the river. An Indiana State Trooper who was nearly struck by the car said he saw the driver slumped over the wheel as the car passed. Bowen's medical history and condition at the time of the accident was being subpoenaed by the city's prosecutor's office for filing possible charges. It was uncertain whether alcohol or drugs were involved, officials said at a press conference held Monday morning, July 3, at Madison' City Council Chamber.


Photo by Don Ward

Rescue workers haul a victim
up the riverbank to a
waiting ambulance.

It was also unknown why the car's passenger, Cory Luedeman, 16, of 625 Sullivan Trace, North Vernon, was unable to do anything about the speeding car if its driver had become incapacitated. Luedeman was treated and released at KDH. He was to be interviewed again on Monday.
In the moments following the accident, several people scrambled to find their loved ones to see that they were OK. Five names were read over the local radio station in an effort to locate possible missing people. Divers in the river scoured the scene for any possible missing people. But none were found, and those missing were later found to be safe.
In addition to Bowen, three others were flown to Louisville hospitals, with two serious and two critical on Monday:
• Priscilla "Jean" Johnson, 56, of 933 W. Second St., Madison. She was flown to the University of Louisville Hospital where she was treated for head and chest injuries. She also suffered fractures to her extremities and was listed in critical condition on Monday. She was being assisted by a ventilator.

human chain

Photo by Jim Chagares

Rescue workers and volunteers
form a chain to secure the area.

• Jennifer Willette, 28, of 279 Sonia, Madison Heights, Mich. She was flown from the scene to the University of Louisville Hospital for head and chest injuries and fractures to her extremities. She was listed in critical condition and was being assisted by a ventilator.
• Hana Roberts, 14, of 11707 N. West Fork Rd., Madison. She was flown to Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville after being treated at KDH for head injuries and a right shoulder injury. She was listed stable condition Sunday night.
Six people were treated at KDH and released Sunday night:
• Rory Willette, 50, of Madison Heights, Mich., and the father of Jennifer Willette. He was treated for right hip pain.
• Bill Cousins, 66, of 489 Logan Lane, Bedford, Ky. He is a vintage boat builder and racer who was treated for bruised and swollen leg.
• Carrie Bessinger, 27, of 548 Ghent St., Mount Gilead, Ohio. She was treated for a right hip injury.
• Janice Nash, 45, of 1938 Crystal Dr., La Grange, Ky. She was treated for back pain and a contusion.

car, golf cart

Photo by Jim Chagares

Not much is left of the damaged
golf cart (left) and car.

• Frank Figureas, 40, of Winter Park, Fla. He was treated for head pain and a chemical burn to his face from gasoline in the golf cart.
The accident made local and national news, with Louisville TV stations on the scene and in the air later that afternoon as police and rescue workers cleaned up the scene and Indiana State Police investigators reconstructed the accident for more information, Wolf said.
The Regatta crowd, slowly left the riverbank "in a peaceful and orderly fashion," said Huntington, who praised the work of his police department and local volunteer fire and rescue workers.
At Monday's press conference, Huntington and Wolf were joined by KDH spokeswoman Nadja Boone, ABRA chairman Sam Cole and two Madison Regatta representatives, media liaison Joe Hertz and president Buddy Gaw.
Wolf briefed reporters, then all six fielded a variety of questions, including whether the accident would jeopardize the future of the Regatta itself. Huntington assured them that this freak accident does not end the city's 56-year Fourth of July holiday tradition.
"We expect to be racing here next year for our 57th year and have no plans to discontinue the Regatta," Huntington said. "As far as changes to the gate, that's something the Regatta may have to look at."
Hertz added, "We view this as an external incident to the Regatta."
Asked if the Regatta would have to consider banning alcohol on the riverfront, Hertz replied, "We don't know that alcohol was a factor and we have no plan to change our policy regarding alcohol on the riverbank."
Cole added, "We don't even know if these people (in the car) were attending the Regatta. They came from the outside, as far as we know."
The mayor said that the Regatta committee "has worked very hard over the years to make this a family event... No one on the riverfront is at fault for this at all," he said.

Regatta awards trophy to Villwock

Due to the cancellation of the final race Sunday, Madison Regatta officials quietly awarded this year's trophy to the day's points leader, Dave Villwock, pilot of the U-1 Miss Elam Plus. The former Budweiser driver, who won the race here in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2004, collected his 50th career victory. He trails only the late Bill Muncey (62) and Chip Hanauer (61) in all-time career wins.
Villwock's victory was dampened by the freak car accident that forced the premature cancellation of the final race. There was no trophy presentation ceremony, and Regatta officials downplayed his victory.

U-1 Elam Plus

Photo by Don Ward

Dave Villwock pilots his
U-1 Elam Plus to victory.

Villwock won two of the day's four heat races on his way to mounting 800 points. Villwock took over driving duties in the Elam Plus midway through last season and guided owner Erick Ellstrom's team to a season points championship.
On Sunday, Villwock won the first heat against the hometown boat, Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison, driven by Steve David. Mike Weber in the U-5 Formulaboats.com was third. Rookie Kevin Aylesworth in the U-21 Freedom Racing team failed to start.
Villwock won the fourth and final heat of the day over Jimmy King in the U-3 Master Tire. Ken Muscatel did not finish the heat and David did not start the race after having spun out at the starting line, narrowing missing a rescue boat parked in the middle of the race course.
Rookie Unlimited driver Mike Allen in the U-7 Formulaboats.com II placed second in overall points, after having won the second heat of the day. He beat Muscatel in his U-2.25 Superior Racing boat, and Canadian driver Jean Theoret in the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing boat. Theoret raced Allen side by side for much of the race, but he was penalized one lap for lane encroachment. King's U-3 started the race but the engine caught fire in the backstretch and he was forced to quit. His team was able to replace the engine so he could race the later heat.
Weber won the third heat, racing against his teammate, Allen, and Theoret, who was penalized one lap for hitting a Turn 3 buoy.

U-5, U-1 racing

Photo by Don Ward

Mike Weber in the U-5
Formulaboats.com tries to
fend off Dave Villwock in the U-1.

The field of 10 Unlimiteds was the most in many years, but bad luck and debris in the river forced many boats out of the race early in the day. In fact, the debris caused the cancellation of all testing and qualifying on Saturday. Sunday's schedule had to be altered twice as the boats kept withdrawing due to damage or mechanical reasons.
Nate Brown in the U-10 Miss Emcor suffered damage when a propeller shaft broke in Sunday morning testing. He was forced to withdraw.
Greg Hopp in the U-100 Leland Racing boat did not race after his boat hit debris in morning testing. The collision broke off a propeller, forcing him out of the lineup.
Aylesworth, in the U-21 Freedom Racing boat, was sporting local sponsor Demaree Automotive Group on its hull but never raced after he burned up a gear box in morning testing.
David tore a rudder off his Miss Madison boat at the start of Heat 2B, causing his boat to swerve into the middle of the course and ending his racing for the day.
Muscatel suffered damage from debris in that same heat, forcing him to withdraw.
"It's probably the most unusual thing we've seen in boat racing, but the important thing is that the victims of that accident are tended to, and we pray for their fast recovery," David said.

2006 Madison Regatta Results
Sunday, July 2
(No final heat; winner based on points)

Pos. Name, Boat, Points
1. Dave Villwock, U-1 Miss Elam Plus, 800
2. Mike Allen, U-7 Formulaboats.com II, 700
3. Mike Weber, U-5 Formulaboats.com, 625
4. Jean Theoret, U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing, 450
5. Ken Muscatel, U-2.25 Superior Racing, 300
6. Jimmy King, U-3 Master Tire, 300
7. Steve David, U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison, 300
8. Nate Brown, U-10 Miss Emcor, 0
9. Kevin Aylesworth, U-21 Miss Demaree Automotive, 0
10. Greg Hopp, U-100 Marian Travel Inn, 0

Heat 1A
1. Dave Villwock, U-1 Miss Elam Plus; 2. Steve David, U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison; 3. Mike Weber, U-5 Formulaboats.com; 4. Kevin Aylesworth, U-21 Miss Demaree Automotive-DNS.

Heat 1B
1. Mike Allen, U-7 Formulaboats.com II; 2. Ken Muscatel, U-2.25 Superior Racing; 3. Jean Theoret, U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing*; 4. Jimmy King, U-3 Master Tire-DNF. *=Penalized one lap for lane encroachment.

Heat 2A
1. Mike Weber, U-5 Formulaboats.com; 2. Mike Allen, U-7 Formulaboats.com II; 3. Jean Theoret, U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing*. *=Penalized one lap for hitting buoy.

Heat 2B
1. Dave Villwock, U-1 Miss Elam Plus; 2. Jimmy King, U-3 Master Tire; 3. Ken Muscatel, U-2.25 Superior Racing=DNF; 4. Steve David, U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison-DNS.

Season Point Standings After Evansville, Madison
1. Dave Villwock, U-1 Miss Elam Plus, 2,500
2. Jimmy King, U-3 Master Tire, 1,860
3. Mike Allen, U-7 Formulaboats.com II, 1,649
4. Mike Weber, U-5 Formulaboats.com, 1,680
5. Jean Theoret, U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing, 1,138
6. Steve David, U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison, 1,097
7. Greg Hopp, U-100 Leland Racing, 509
8. Nate Brown, U-10 Miss Emcor, 424
9. Ken Muscatel, U-2.25 Superior Racing, 382
10. Kevin Aylesworth, U-21, Freedom Racing, 210

Back to 2006 Madison Regatta Articles.



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