Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Browning said six people were killed, including two 15-year-old girls and a 17-year-old girl. The accident injured 18 others, including a 5-year-old boy, who were taken to hospitals in Tennessee and Mississippi.
Authorities on Sunday identified the driver as pro drag racer Troy Warren Critchley, an Australian who is now based in Wylie, Texas. He suffered minor injuries and was taken by car to a nearby hospital for treatment, authorities said.
There were no criminal charges against Critchley, Browning said.
The crash occurred Saturday night during an “exhibition burnout” — when a driver spins his tires to make them smoke — at the Cars for Kids charity event in Selmer, located about 80 miles east of Memphis.
On amateur video of the crash, broadcast on WMC-TV in Memphis, the car’s engine is heard revving loudly before the vehicle speeds down a highway lined with spectators on both sides. After a few hundred feet, the car skidded off the road.
There was a guard rail along at least part of the highway, but state officials could not immediately say if the spectators were standing behind the rail where the crash occurred.
The identities of the victims and the driver were not immediately released.
Mourners placed small votive candles at the crash site early Sunday.
Witness Scott Henley said the vehicle started burning off its tires, then fishtailed and slammed into a utility pole before spinning around into the audience.
Selmer Police Chief Neal Burks said “bodies were flying into the air when it happened.”
“I saw body parts flying everywhere,” said witness Sean Hood.
Browning said the vehicle was a drag-racing car, but he did not have details.
Matthew Brammer, administrator of AMS Pro Modified Series, which sanctions drag races, said late Saturday that the car involved has been driven by drag racer Troy Critchley, of Wylie, Texas, but he did not know if Critchley was driving when the car struck the crowd.
The AMS Pro Modified Series later issued a news release saying the driver was a veteran of more than 20 years in drag racing and had to be taken to an emergency room.
The release said the driver was performing a burnout when road conditions caused the car to go out of control.
“The race team is in shock and deeply saddened by this unexpected event. Their hearts and prayers are with the injured people and their families.Sheriff’s officials and police closed the festival shortly after the crash. About 40,000 to 60,000 people were expected to attend the weekend event.
Cars for Kids holds several events throughout the nation and raises close to $200,000 annually for charities that help children in need, according to its Web site.
The charity was formed in 1990, two years after founder Larry Price’s son, Chad, suffered a severe head injury in a bicycle accident.
Price promised that if his son was saved from lifelong injuries, he would spend the rest of his life raising funds for disabled children, according to the Web site.