The crowd was thick. The music was upbeat. The energy was at fever pitch. This was Oklahoma State University’s homecoming parade.
As it does in Stillwater every year, the parade on Saturday, called the Sea of Orange, wound up a 1.6km-long stretch from West Ninth Avenue to West Hall of Fame Avenue, as thousands of spectators — some of them children being pushed in strollers, and nearly all of them dressed in orange — gathered downtown and packed onto Main Street to watch the penultimate event of homecoming weekend.
However, the occasion for pomp and pep suddenly turned tragic when a car plowed into the crowd near the end of the parade, killing four people, including a two-year-old boy, and injuring at least 49, law enforcement and hospital officials said.
“The Oklahoma State homecoming parade is one of the most wholesome, happy events in the country,” Oklahoma State University president Burns Hargis said at a news conference. “To have it fouled like this is a terrible tragedy.”
The scene unfolded about 10:30am at an intersection two blocks from the stadium where, hours later, undefeated Oklahoma State secured a 58-10 victory over the University of Kansas in the homecoming football game. The driver of a Hyundai Elantra struck an unmanned police motorcycle before running into the crowd, Stillwater Police Department Captain Kyle Gibbs said.
Eight people were in critical condition, including seven who had been airlifted to hospitals, city officials said in an afternoon update. Nine people were seriously injured, and 17 others were described as “walking wounded.”
However, hospitals continued to report receiving more patients. The two-year-old boy died at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, where hospital officials said four children and three adults were being treated on Saturday. Their conditions ranged from good to critical, according to the hospital.
Three of those patients had been flown from Stillwater Medical Center, and two were in critical condition, the hospital said.
Shyla Eggers, a spokeswoman for the Stillwater hospital, said the facility had received 43 patients from the crash who ranged in age from one to 66. Three were admitted to the hospital, and one was taken to St John Medical Center in Tulsa. Officials at Perry Memorial Hospital said it had received two patients with minor injuries.
Officials did not identify the people killed, but the University of Central Oklahoma said in a statement that one was Nikita Nakal, a masters’ student from Mumbai, India.
The driver, identified as Adacia Avery Chambers, was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, police said.
Chambers, 25, of Stillwater, is in jail, Gibbs said, adding that she is not an Oklahoma State student, he said.
A woman who answered the telephone at the home of Chambers’ father, Floyd Chambers, said he was not taking phone calls.
“He is very devastated,” she said.
Investigators said they had not determined if the act was intentional.
Witnesses described seeing a fast-moving sedan and bodies flying, according to news reports.
“Someone just ran a car full speed through the homecoming parade,” Johnathan Peterson, an alumnus, wrote on Twitter. “Inches from hitting us. Lots of people down. Chaos on Hall of Fame.”
Two employees of a tint shop in Stillwater said they had seen Adacia Chambers on Saturday morning. They said she had arrived at her job next door at Freddy’s Frozen Custard and quickly left. Although she appeared upset, they said, she did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“She just looked upset as she walked by, like she had been crying,” one of the workers, Jerry Blair, said. “She walked a perfect line.”
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