Running community grieves Moore tragedy, offers support

Kyle Phillips / Tbe Transcript

Mourners look at a memorial set up Tuesday for those killed and injured in a hit-and-run incident on Main Street in front of Moore High School.

Moore High School and its families have received an outpouring of support for six cross-country and track runners who were struck by a pickup truck in a fatal hit-and-run collision Monday afternoon.

The incident killed Rachel Freeman and Yuridia Martinez and hospitalized Joseph White, Kolby Crum, Shiloh Hutchison and Ashton Baza.

It was difficult news to process within a local running community that Norman High cross-country and track coach Scott Monnard calls unique.

“Even though you compete with kids and other schools, you also pull for them,” Monnard said. “You never want anything negative to happen.”

Though Monnard and other coaches understand the stress that comes with sending runners off campus to practice, he can’t fathom what Moore’s program is experiencing.

Freeman had been scheduled to sign an athletic scholarship with Ouachita Baptist University on Wednesday, as part of National Signing Day.

The workout she and Moore’s other athletes were conducting Monday is typical for distance runners this time of year as spring track season approaches. The Lions were known to put countless miles into the course where a truck hit the runners on a sidewalk in the 1100 block of East Main Street.

Distance running coaches arm athletes with safety protocol, such as sticking to sidewalks and running opposite the flow of traffic to see cars driving closest to them.

Coaches often provide supervision with cars that lead and trail their group of runners, which at times includes dozens of student-athletes.

Monday’s incident appeared to be out of Moore’s runners or coaches’ control.

“They were following protocol,” said Monnard, who has reached out to Moore with any help NHS can provide.

“They weren't doing anything they weren't supposed to. Sometimes you can do everything right and things still happen. ... It's a coach’s worst nightmare.”

Group runs are also typical this time of year as casual and elite adult runners train for marathon, half-marathon or other distance races approaching in spring and summer.

Tim Thompson, a Moore High School alumnus and co-founder of OK Runner, was familiar with some of the runners affected Monday; they’ve patronized his Norman-based sporting goods store and competed in the annual OK Runner Classic.

As news of the tragedy spread online, Thompson wasn’t surprised to see social media flooded with messages from other runners, even from outside the area, who like him wanted to offer sympathy and condolences.

“When something like this happens,” Thompson said, “the running community really bonds together and comes together to support one another.”

According to State of Oklahoma Highway Safety Office data, 52 crashes involving pedestrians occurred in Cleveland County in 2018. That ranked third statewide behind Oklahoma County (236) and Tulsa County (164).

Three pedestrian-involved fatality crashes took place that year in Cleveland County, compared to 13 in Oklahoma County and 12 in Tulsa County. Those figures do not include pedalcyclists.

In 2016, pedestrian fatality crashes statewide spiked over a 10-year period with 91 deaths. That decreased to 64 in 2018, but the total was still a 50 percent increase dating back to 2009.

Of the state’s 64 pedestrian crash fatalities in 2018, most were confined to municipalities, with 30 occurring on city streets. The next most dangerous areas were urban state highways, which accounted for 10 deaths, followed by interstate highways (8) and urban US highways (7).

Authorities are still trying to determine the root cause behind Monday’s accident. Max Leroy Townsend, 57, is being held on a $1 million bond at the Cleveland County Detention Center on complaints of manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident involving injury.

Moore Police Chief Todd Strickland said Tuesday that Townsend showed signs of alcohol impairment at the time of the crash. Blood test results are pending.

Thompson encouraged drivers to give more consideration to runners, who are often focused on their footing, making it impossible to always see what’s in front of them.

He said drivers distracted by mobile phones have also become more of a danger to runners, as well as cyclists, over the past decade.

“Drivers just have to pay attention,” Thompson said. “With runners, it's getting worse and worse that you're having to go to parks, you're having to go to neighborhoods and get off the major streets, and really concentrate on staying on the sidewalks just because of the way a cell phone is dictating the way drivers drive.”

— Tyler Palmateer contributed to this report

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