Out of control
Lisa Harris was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perched on the sidewalk on East Market Street, the 27-year-old property manager was enjoying the Dogwood Parade when a Shriner’s go-cart plowed into her and a five-year-old boy sitting beside her.
“All I heard was him scream, and I turned my head, and the go-cart was there,” recalls Harris. The 5-year-old– no relation to Harris– suffered a broken ankle. Except for a swollen foot and pain in her leg, Harris says, “I’m fine.”
Howard Demro of Richmond was driving the ill-fated go-cart. He says the day started when Shriners from the Acca Temple in Richmond met at 8am April 27 to caravan over to Charlottesville. The Shriners had breakfast at Aunt Sarah’s, then went to assemble at the old Coca-Cola plant for the Parade.
Demro, age 64, estimates he’s driven in 35 or 40 parades. So what went wrong this time?
Demro explains that if one guy goes too fast or too slow, that can mess up the fancy maneuvers the Shriners do to wow the crowds.
“We were doing a maneuver," says Demro, "and someone got out of time, and I had to swerve to avoid hitting him.”
Over in Richmond at the Acca Temple, Potentate Dave Bishop says the go-cart drivers practice “all the time,” especially before a parade. While Demro was driving a basic go-cart model, some fellow fez-wearing Shriners drive the little orange cars that look like Corvettes.
After Harris and the five-year-old were hit, the go-cart remained on the sidewalk while the Dogwood Parade continued.
“I thought that was kind of crappy that they didn’t stop,” says Harris, who seems ruefully aware that the parade must go on. She points out that the parade did, however, eventually stop for a moment– “when they rolled me across the street on a stretcher.”
Harris rode in an ambulance with the injured boy, whose mother declined an interview request. “He was crying,” Harris says. “He was in a lot of pain.”
Potentate Bishop says the Shriners will take care of the medical bills of those injured by the errant go-cart. “We’re real sorry," he adds, "and we’re doing everything for the families."
The Shriners are known for their 22 children’s hospitals in North America. “None have a billing department, and they have state-of-art equipment," says Bishop.
“It’s sort of ironic that a group like the Shriners, whose mission is to help children, had an accident like this," says the Parade's director, Dan Parks.
It’s likely the Shriners will be invited back to the next year’s Dogwood Parade, says Parks, but he does want to talk to them to see how accidents like this can be avoided.
Parks says his greater concern is animals. This year’s parade had four horse units. “Animals scare me the most because they’re not predictable,” he admits.
While Demro’s driving resulted in injuries, neither police nor witnesses have indicated that drinking was involved, and Demro says he was not required to take a Breathalyzer test. Charlottesville Police filed no charges in the accident.
Harris says she goes to the Dogwood Parade every year, missing it only the year she got married. “I love the parade,” she says. “My son loves the parade. We’ll probably go back– but we won’t sit on the side of the street.”