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Trail Days Tragedy

Dozens were injured when a car plowed into a hiker parade at Virginia's trail festival over the weekend. Backpacker Get Out More Tour ambassadors witnessed the accident.
damascus trail day crowd 445x260The crowd at Trail Days

The outdoor community was shaken when an accident injured scores of hikers at an event in Virginia over the weekend. Backpacker Magazine’s Get Out More Tour ambassadors were on the scene, and witnessed event participants leaping to the aid of those requiring assistance.

On Saturday, at Damascus Trail Days in Damascus, Va. — one of the country’s biggest hikers’ parades — a man drove off the road and careened into a crowd of people, injuring more than 60. Thankfully, no casualties were reported. A medical emergency led the driver, an elderly man and an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker himself, to lose control of his 1997 Cadillac. The nature of the driver’s ailment has not been released, but the incident was an accident rather than an act of malice.

“I was shocked by the news,” said Backpacker Editor-in-Chief Dennis Lewon. “We’ve been a longtime supporter of Trail Days, and it’s hard to imagine a tragic accident like this happening at the festival.”

Upon hearing the news, Lewon said his thoughts immediately went to Get Out More Tour Ambassadors Sheri and Randy Propster, who were in Damascus.

“We were about 200 feet away from where the accident occurred, and witnessed first-hand hikers jump into action during a time [that] has been described by many as ‘one of the scariest things they’ve ever seen,’” the Propsters wrote on the Backpacker Get Out More Tour’s Facebook Fan page.

The pair said they saw dozens of people become heroes and lunge into action. One person removed the keys from the Cadillac’s ignition to prevent further chaos. A group of 30 lifted the car to free a person trapped underneath.

It was an intense scene, and frightening even for those who weren’t in close proximity, but saw emergency crews descending on the festival.

The hardest part was not knowing what was happening, said Dave Dolph, a product developer for event sponsor Oboz Footwear. Dolph saw the Flight for Life helicopters and ambulances taking the injured away, but wasn’t clear on details or the severity of the injuries until much later.

Though the mood of the festival changed after the accident, the community united in support, Dolph said.

“There was certainly a sense of shock and disbelief,” Dolph said, adding that hikers were helping one another process what happened, and Damascus residents opened their homes to help and feed hikers.

A fund is being established to help injured hikers cover their medical expenses, since, as Dolph noted, many of them lack insurance.

“A lot of them are young kids who either graduated college or quit college, went to REI or local dealers with their graduation money, and cobbled together a kit to get them through the next 2,500 miles,” Dolph said. “They don’t have health insurance, and they don’t have a lot of resources.”

For more information on the fund, visit the Damascus Trail Days website: http://traildays.us/

Like many in the industry, Lewon extended his sympathies: “Everyone in the Backpacker family extends our thoughts and sympathy to the hikers injured in the accident.”

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