‘Perfect storm’ ended in death, grand jury says
Crash that killed 9-year-old racer caused by ‘numerous human errors'
A grand jury returned no criminal charges in the death of a young go-kart racer, but said in a scathing report that “actions or inactions” created an environment that led to August’s accident at Grand Junction Motor Speedway.
Taybor Duncan, 9, of Aurora, was running practice laps the morning of Aug. 15 when her go-kart slammed into a flatbed trailer, which was being hauled by an-terrain vehicle driven by Richard Talley, a longtime employee of the track. The ATV had entered the track to assist another crashed racer.
Reports in the investigation of Taybor’s death, which had been the grand jury’s focus since mid-February, became public Wednesday.
“The grand jury ... has concluded that there was, in fact, a perfect storm that led to Taybor’s death,” the report said. Events behind it were “largely man-made, and Taybor Duncan was the ultimate, inevitable victim of numerous human errors, acts and omissions.”
Of the named targets of the grand jury’s investigation, including Talley, the local speedway, Colorado Junior Karting Club and International Karting Federation, only an attorney representing Grand Junction Motor Speedway chose to file a formal response to the grand jury report.
Taybor’s death was the first injury accident in the track’s 10-year history, the speedway attorney said.
“There are too many variables and factors that were not considered or discussed as is evidenced by the report itself,” the attorney for the track wrote in response, which is co-owned by Stacey Cook.
The speedway asked a judge not to make the grand jury’s report public.
“Public dissemination does not serve or assist, the healing process,” Denver-based attorney Timothy Schimberg wrote.
Taybor’s parents, Jason and Tracy Duncan, had a different take.
They said they were “disappointed” by the grand jury’s decision to not bring charges and the family has an unrelated civil lawsuit pending against the speedway and other entities.
“We believe the evidence demonstrated that the conduct of the people involved in causing the death of our daughter was criminal, for which indictments should have been issued,” the Duncans wrote in response to the report. “Public release of the grand jury’s findings in this matter will be a step toward making go-kart racing safer for kids across the country.”
Taybor Duncan on Aug. 15 was racing in the “novice” classification, although relatively experienced and a participant in the sport since 2008, the report said. The karts in Duncan’s classification reached maximum speeds of 55 mph, but a transponder device showed the average speed during her last lap was just over 43 mph, before colliding with Talley’s ATV.
Among the grand jury’s findings:
The speedway, Colorado Junior Karting Association and International Karting Federation had no rules or standards addressing where a “recovery vehicle” — such as the ATV ridden by Talley that collided with Taybor’s go-kart — should be safely placed near a track or under what circumstances they should be allowed to enter a track.
In the Duncan’s civil lawsuit, the family alleged the ATV was obscured behind a hay bale before it entered the track.
“The grand jury heard conflicting testimony as to whether the recovery vehicle was in a normal, safe location immediately prior to the vehicle crossing the track and colliding with Taybor’s kart, or whether it was in a less than appropriate and safe location,” the report said.
In response, the speedway said it is “investigating” future placement of recovery vehicles, suggesting a location on the perimeter of the track, as opposed to the infield, may be a better practice.
“(Speedway) stands by Mr. Cook’s presentation to the grand jury that the rescue vehicle operator is no longer allowed to enter the track when it is ‘hot’,” the report said. “The operator will not do so during (speedway) sponsored events.”
The grand jury also suggested key officials may have been distracted: Talley, while operating the recovery vehicle, was also serving as grid marshal, the person who allowed racers on the course.
Talley has performed multiple tasks at racing events more than 10 years, “and did so without compromising the safety of any of the participants,” the speedway wrote in response.
The grand jury said the speedway failed to have “any written protocols regarding the safe operation of the track on a day-to-day basis.”
The speedway denied the claim, but said the race competition of Aug. 15 was sanctioned by the International Karting Federation.
“Its rules and regulations would be the governing documents,” the speedway wrote.
The grand jury, however, criticized the failure of the speedway to adopt comprehensive rules governing races sanctioned by the International Karting Federation.
The speedway offered no comment to a pair of grand jury allegations: There was no radio communication between various track officials on Aug. 15, including the race director and Talley. The report also said a race director with the Colorado Junior Karting Club failed to “assume full control” of the practice sessions prior to the actual race, when Taybor was killed.
There was no “comprehensive meeting” of all track officials and workers prior to the start of practice laps, the grand jury’s report said.
The race director of the sponsoring agency, in this case the Colorado Junior Karting Club, “has control over such matters,” the speedway wrote.
The grand jury criticized a “minimization” of safety during practice laps.
“Even in a practice environment, nine year old children are racing at speeds in excess of 50 mph,” the report said. “In this context, the grand jury is convinced that no less energy and resources should be devoted to safety in practice sessions than are devoted to safety in the actual races.”
Cook disagreed with the notion standards are lower during practice.
There was a “lack of complete and standardized training for all track officials and workers,” the grand jury concluded. The report noted that speedway workers were unfamiliar with safety regulations of the International Karting Federation.
The speedway said it trains its employees.
“Such training rises to the level of being ‘formal,’ ” the speedway responded.
The grand jury cited a lack of regulations and policies addressing visual obstructions, potentially interfering race workers’ ability to see racers on the track.
“There was credible evidence presented that Talley’s vision of Taybor’s go-kart immediately prior to the crash may have been obstructed by hay bales placed around the flagger station,” the report said.
The speedway disagreed with the grand jury.
“(Speedway) submits there may be other circumstances which explain the tragic event other than a particular “blind spot,” the response read.
The response suggests the grand jury’s report ignored those “other circumstances.”
The grand jury criticized officials on Aug. 15 who allowed racers of various classes and skill levels on the track at the same time during pre-racing laps. The speedway responded it is common practice in karting and motor sports.
Finally, the grand jury said all involved failed to perceive and address safety issues “in a timely fashion,” characterizing officials response as “nonchalant.” At least one official with the Colorado Junior Karting Association testified that recovery vehicles were not allowed to enter tracks when racing was happening, the report said.
“Other witnesses and participants acknowledged that this practice of crossing a hot track had occurred at different times during the weekend (Aug. 13–15), but only reported it as a major problem after Taybor’s death,” the report said.
The speedway wrote in response it rejects the Colorado Junior Karting Association official’s testimony.
“There was no cutting corners by (speedway),” attorneys responded, adding the track had an ambulance on-site and operational during the races.
“It should also be noted that Mesa County and Grand Junction as governmental entities, preclude private ambulance service providers to conduct business within the boundaries of the county and city,” the speedway noted.