Rescue workers pull Michael Bowen (second from left) away from his Chevrolet Monte Carlo while his unidentified passenger struggles to escape. Bowen drove the car through the crowd and into the river at the Madison Regatta on Sunday. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Rescue workers pull Michael Bowen (second from left) away from his Chevrolet Monte Carlo while his unidentified passenger struggles to escape. Bowen drove the car through the crowd and into the river at the Madison Regatta on Sunday. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
The Madison Regatta was cut short Sunday when a car plowed through a crowded riverfront embankment shortly before the start of the final heat of the Indiana Governor’s Cup.

Madison Police Chief Bob Wolf said Michael Bowen, 18, 4466 N. State Road 62, was driving the car that sent him, his passenger and eight spectators to the hospital. Four of the injured, including Bowen, were flown to Louisville hospitals. Police also said Bowen’s black 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo struck an unoccupied Regatta golf cart before barreling through the race-day crowd.

Also in the vehicle was Cory Luedeman, 16, 625 Sullivan Trace, North Vernon, who was treated at KDH for precautionary reasons and released, Wolf said. Police have been in contact with Luedeman and will re-interview him today, Wolf said.

Wolf released the names and conditions of the injured people at a press conference this morning.

The four most seriously injured were:

• Priscilla Johnson, 56, 933 W. Second St., was flown to University of Louisville Hospital for head and chest injuries. She also has open fractures to her extremities and is listed in critical condition. She is being assisted by a ventilator.

• Jennifer Willette, 28, 279 Sonia, Madison Heights, Mich., flown from the scene to University of Louisville Hospital for head and chest injuries and open fractures to her extremities. She is listed in critical condition and is being assisted by a ventilator.

• Hana Roberts, 14, 11707 N. West Fork Road, Madison, flown to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville after being treated at King’s Daughters’ Hospital for head injuries and a right shoulder injury, No update on her condition is available. She was listed in stable condition Sunday night.

• Bowen was flown to University of Louisville Hospital after being treated at King’s Daughters’ Hospital for a possible closed head injury and altered mental status. He is stable at U of L and might be released today.

Six people were treated by KDH and released Sunday night. They are:

• Car passenger Cory Luedeman, 16, 625 Sullivan Trace, North Vernon, treated at KDH for precautionary reasons.

• Rory Willett, 50, Madison Heights, Mich., treated at KDH for right hip pain.

• Bill Cousins, 66, 489 Logan Lane, Bedford, Ky., treated for bruised and swollen leg.

• Carrie Bessinger, 27, 548 Ghent St., Mount Gilead, Ohio, treated for a right hip injury.

• Janice Nash, 45, 1938 Crystal Drive, La Grange, Ky., treated for back pain/contusion.

• Frank Figureas, 40, Winter Park, Fla., treated for head pain and a chemical burn to face from the gasoline of the golf cart.

Among first responders to the scene was Matt Brawner, 21, a Kent Volunteer Fire Department volunteer who witnessed the accident.

“I saw a black vehicle hit the crowd going at least 55 to 60 miles per hour,” he said. “I saw a leg go flying off into the river.”

A man who lost his leg was among spectators who received medical attention immediately after the accident.

“There was also a little girl, maybe 9 or 10, I saw lying near the shore,” he said. “The car hit her head-on.”

Brawner said the car flew through the air and came down against a concrete culvert, then flipped and fishtailed as it made its way through a crowd of people into the water.

“You couldn’t tell the front of the car from the back by the time it went into the water,” he said.

“I worked on five people immediately after the accident, but there were many more who were injured,” Brawner said. “We also are assisting a lot of people at the scene who are in shock. Some are fainting and in need of water and air. Others just want to talk about what they just saw. We are trying to get them to talk about something else to settle them down.”

John Kinman of Vevay was standing with family members under a tent about 25 feet from the accident scene when he saw a car speeding at least 50 mph toward the river.

“I saw the car hit a woman up along Jefferson Street,” he said. “Then, the car hit a culvert, went flying through the air before driving through the crowd and taking out people,” he said.

“I saw a man run over half way down and a young girl lying down by the water who was being administered CPR immediately after the accident,” Kinman said.

The Associated Press reported that Bowen told Madison police that he had passed out before the accident. Wolf denied that Bowen gave that statement to police or the press.

“If he is telling people he passed out, we would like to know why,” Wolf said. “It might aid us in our investigation when the tests come back from the hospital.”

According to police and witnesses, Bowen drove through the crowd at a very high speed, leaving little time for surprised fans to move out of the way. Indiana State Police stationed near the entrance to the Regatta on Jefferson Street described Bowen’s car as moving in excess of 70 mph. Wolf confirmed those reports later during a press conference.

Wolf denied reports that Bowen was being pursued by police.

“No police vehicles were in pursuit of Bowen,” Wolf said.

Mayor Al Huntington said early television and radio reports were inaccurate immediately after the accident.

Witnesses described the scene as scary and surreal, or even like a scene from a Hollywood movie.

Duncan Wilson and David Wing were watching the Regatta along the shoreline. Both are from Seattle and are avid hydroplane fans.

Seconds before the accident, Wilson remembered hearing a scream from the crowd followed by a loud “crunching sound.” The crunching sound was a golf cart that was smashed onto the hood of Bowen’s car as it continued its disastrous decent down the crowded embankment.

“When I saw it (car) coming, I saw bodies flying everywhere,” Duncan said. “It headed where kids were playing on the bank.”

Wilson added, “It looked like a Hollywood stage, people were flying everywhere.”

After the accident, rescue divers who already were on the riverfront for the Regatta quickly swarmed around the car. Wilson and Duncan were impressed with how quickly rescue units responded. Wilson said a diver swam to the driver’s-side window and punched the glass with his bare hands to rescue the driver.

On the bank, rescue workers immediately began first aid on the victims. They continued first aid until EMS arrived.

Their heroic efforts were noticed by city leaders and police.

“I want to thank the safety and rescue crews,” Huntington said. “They did a tremendous job.”

Safety and rescue workers formed a human perimeter around the crash site to preserve the scene.

While safety crews were responding, fear and pandemonium broke loose on Vaughn Drive as spectators began to panic. While people were trying to get a close look at where the car had torn through, rescue personnel tried to divert them from the scene. Eventually the human chain was again implemented to secure the perimeter on the road.

After victims were loaded into ambulances, rescue crews had to clear Vaughn Drive of spectators to let the vehicles through. People on both sides of the road ran to whatever side was closer in order to get out of the way of the ambulances.

Minutes later, Regatta officials used the public-address speakers to ask people to leave the area if they were not involved with the accident.

Amid the confusion, parents began searching frantically for their children and families tried to find each other. One by one, tearful people approached the Regatta judge’s stand and asked the announcer to broadcast their loved one’s names.

The radio stations on the scene also broadcast names. The tactic worked, and families were reunited.

Steve David, driver of the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison was shaken after the accident. David had narrowly escaped tragedy himself when he lost control of his boat after it hit underwater debris and the rudder assembly was sheared off.

“They are our people,” David, said. “They are my people — my fans — and you just hate to see them hurt. All you can do is pray for them.”

Drivers and teams prayed for the victims as the crowd began to disperse and order was restored to the riverfront. Once the crowd left, police were able to begin their investigation.

Indiana State Police sent accident reconstruction officers, and Indiana Conservation Officers conducted dive patterns to search for more victims.

“We don’t have anyone confirmed to be taken into the river,” Wolf said. “But we have people saying a lot of different things. So to take care of the situation, we are combing the area. We have had no one that was in that area to say they were missing an individual. So we don’t have anyone to confirm anyone else was in the river along with the car. But we are going to conduct a search just to make sure.”

Dive teams worked through the evening searching the area for more victims.

The Regatta was immediately canceled. Race organizers chose to forgo an award ceremony and based the winner of the day from accumulated points.

It was the third Madison Regatta called off before the final heat, but the previous times were because of Mother Nature. In 1972, heavy fog set in before the final heat, so the race was canceled, Regatta historian Fred Farley said today. In 1987, the Regatta was stopped when driver Steve Reynolds was injured and was about to resume when a thunderstorm rolled in before the final heat. The U.S. Coast Guard “pulled the plug” on racing, Farley said.

The race in 1998, which was preceded by the Ohio River flooding, was postponed until Labor Day because the pit area was under water, Farley said.

Steve Tesmer, chief deputy prosecutor in Jefferson County, was at the scene after the accident. Wolf said he will be in contact with the prosecutor’s office to determine if any charges will be filed.

Courier sports editor Mark Campbell and reporter Peggy Vlerebome contributed to this report.