It’s the call you never want to get working for a small town police department on the Fourth of July, “vehicle into crowd.”
But that is what came over the radio on Thursday as Claremont Police Sergeant Robert Ewing was performing crowd control duties during the annual Independence Day parade.
Fortunately, the initial report was not entirely accurate. There had been an accident involving one of the parade vehicles, but reports from the scene indicate that the driver steered his vehicle away from the crowd to avoid parade watchers.
According to witnesses at the scene, a flat bed truck that was part of the parade pulled off Harrison Avenue into the parking lot at the Joslyn Senior Center then suddenly accelerated- gaining significant speed before crashing into a flag pole, an arbor and bushes adjacent to the center.
Natalie Venegas was sitting under an pop-up tent at the end of the parade by the Joslyn Center when she heard the vehicle accelerate through the parking lot. “It all happened so quick, he definitely got some speed.”
She described the driver as an older male with grey hair.
“I heard these girls scream and ran over, and I saw the flag pole come down," said Upland resident William Gordon. “The cops didn't play around—they came out with guns drawn.”
He said he had been sitting on a bench right where the truck crashed but left the spot because he wanted to talk with the people from the University Club float.
“Luckily it didn't happen a few minutes earlier, the boy scouts had been standing in the lot.” he said.
Claremont resident George Keeler also saw the crash.
“At the end area of the Claremont 4th of July Parade, an elderly man driving the Habitat for Humanity float either had a medical emergency or mistook the gas for the brake. He just missed the Little League boys and plowed into bushes, knocking over the flag pole. I was near the accident when it happened. From what I can tell he didn’t hurt anyone but himself. If that is true, he saved lives by swerving to the right and missing the [some children] who had just jumped off their float on the left.” Mr Keeler said.
The first police officers to arrive secured the scene and then checked around and under the vehicle to make sure no one was hit. The driver was taken to an area hospital for medical evaluation. Police confirmed the only injury was the driver.
Other witnesses said the driver appeared to deliberately steer the truck toward the building to avoid people. “You have to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Mr. Gordon said.
“The throttle may have stuck, but I have not confirmed that,” Sgt. Ewing said, as he continued to collect information at the scene. He also could not confirm that the officers had pulled their weapons.
Still it was very clear that the situation could have been a lot worse “We go lucky,” Sgt. Ewing said “We got very, very lucky.”