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Fifth Person Dies In French Auto Race Crash

July 15, 1996

ALENCON, France (AP) _ A fifth person died today from injuries suffered when a race car plowed into a crowd of spectators.

Twenty-three others were injured in the first fatal accident since the race was created in 1976.

The latest victim was identified by officials as Bruno Thoreton, 35, who had been in a coma since Sunday’s accident. The other victims were identified today as Francoise Quitard, 30; Maryline Loupi, 35; Jacky Touzot, 27, and Guy Richard, 50.

All the dead and injured were from the Orne region, where the race was held.

Three helicopters ferried the injured, eight of whom were seriously hurt, to local hospitals near the racetrack in Essay, about 125 miles west of Paris, according to police. The 15 less serious injuries included broken bones and shock, officials said.

Witnesses said one of the drivers in the Inter-Nations Cup race hit a bump while traveling about 125 mph and lost control, sending his car hurtling into the crowd.

``On a curve, the driver in the lead lost control of his car and went over the security embankment,″ Bernard Tomasini, the prefect (appointed governor) of the Orne region, told the French television network LCI.

``This caused a pile-up, and another car also went over the embankment and flew into the crowd,″ he said.

Television footage showed the accident area as a stretch where the track turned from asphalt to dirt at the beginning of a flat curve to the right, and where the embankment is about 16 feet high.

One witness told the television network France-2 that the car, a mid-sized Renault Megane, the French auto maker’s newest model, burst over the embankment in the wake of an accident on the track below.

``The Megane tried to avoid the pile-up, and came up over the edge,″ the unidentified witness said.

Fabienne Buccio, Tomasini’s chief of staff, said the race was immediately stopped. She identified the driver as Belgian Jos Sterkens, 42, who suffered a fracture but was not seriously hurt.

Race officials had sprayed the track with water at the request of spectators to keep the dust down, a common practice at such races, Buccio said. The drivers were also aware of that, she said.

The Inter-Nations Cup is the European championship for a kind of race known as ``rally-cross,″ on a track that is part asphalt, part dirt. Twelve nations were participating in the competition. The accident took place during qualifying runs.

The rally-cross track is certified by the French Federation of Motor Sports, and is at a level on a par with European facilities, Tomasini said.

It accommodates about 5,000-6,000 spectators, he said.

``Two years ago we asked track authorities to enhance security, and they did,″ Tomasini said. ``We obtained approval from the Federation, and departmental security authorities.″

About 100 rescue officials helped the injured, and organizers set up first-aid posts on the spot.

Update hourly