According to a lawsuit filed by his wife in federal court, Jose Cruz went to Atco Raceway on September 15th, 2010 to enjoy a day drag racing. His wife Evelyn Cruz stated in the lawsuit that Mr. Cruz lost control on a pass, crashed into the wall, and was inside when it caught fire. She further claims that while safety vehicles were on site, including an ambulance, the safety vehicle containing fire fighting gear would not start and therefore her son and track personnel had to run to Mr. Cruz’ aid in order to put out the fire. Mr. Cruz was burned in the crash, and suffered second and third degree burns over what we assume was much of his body based on the fact that he died approximately one year later.
The attorney for Mrs. Cruz stated “Atco charged patrons a fee and held itself out as a safe environment for experienced drag racers to engage in a highly dangerous activity” in documents associated with the lawsuit. Her client is suing for $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages from Atco and the NHRA.
Dana DiFilippo, Staff Writer for the Philadelphia Daily News could not reach Ms. Shatynsky, the lawyer for Mrs. Cruz, for comments on the lawsuit.
Atco Owner Joe Sway Sr. was however available for comment, and denies the claims of the lawsuit. “The ambulance was on scene; it has to be when we are racing. The ambulance was functional. And we have a fire-suppression system on a pickup truck, which was operational and did respond.” Sway said. He also added that the driver was out of the car by the time the first responder got to him.
As most of our readers know, Atco has been around for more than 50 years. It is a track with great history, and is incredibly busy with events non-stop. According to their 2012 schedule there aren’t more than 2 days between events at Atco all year long.
Honestly, we can’t make a judgement on what did or did not happen in this incident without more information. I will say that if a track is running that often you would expect that everyone would know their jobs and be ready and able. And with the number of street car events held at Atco I can’t imagine they don’t get a pretty good workout scraping street cars off the guard rails. Let’s face it, most of those guys have trouble staging and don’t know that the skinny pedal on the right works both ways.
At any rate, we are certainly sad that Mr. Cruz was injured and subsequently died. Our condolences go out to his wife, son, and family. We do however think that a lawsuit like this can be just as tragic, if not more so. Should Atco lose this suit, and have to close, how many street races will go on that result in deaths in New Jersey that could have been prevented by still having a place to race.
Oh and someone should slap Mrs. Cruz’s lawyer upside the head. Highly dangerous activity? Really? Someone should point out to her that she is far more likely to die driving to Target than she is going down a drag strip. And nobody makes you wear a helmet or follows you with safety crews, when you are driving to Target.