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Published: Tuesday, 3/23/2004

Driver sues race track over injury from 1999

Willie Keegan Willie Keegan

WAUSEON - A race car driver is seeking damages in court this week from a local race track owner, saying the operator failed to adequately protect him from injury.

Willie Keegan of Green Springs, Ohio, was injured at Oakshade Raceway on Aug. 21, 1999, while watching races on the south side of the track.

At the time, Mr. Keegan no longer was wearing his protective racing gear when a passing car's tire struck and broke his left leg, initially impinging on his ability to walk, to work, and to race.

"Everybody was running to the right," Mr. Keegan recalled yesterday in Fulton County Common Pleas Court. "I went to the left, and the tire hit me."

The civil trial involving Mr. Keegan's charge against Oakshade owner Jon Green began yesterday in Judge James Barber's courtroom after a jury of four men and four women was selected.

John Coppeler, an attorney for Mr. Keegan, charged in opening statements that Mr. Green disregarded safety precautions by failing to have a fence installed to block the south side track area where waiting drivers often congregated.

Mr. Coppeler also argued that Mr. Green had known that the wheels and the tires have been known to come off race cars while they go speeding past.

But an attorney for Mr. Green argued that Mr. Keegan was well aware of the dangers involved in racing and also had signed a waiver about the risk at the track that night.

"Mr. Keegan's anything but a casual race-goer," said attorney Greg Williams of Toledo.

He added that Mr. Green previously had removed a wall along the south side of the track for safety reasons because drivers were hitting it.

Mr. Keegan, who had four surgeries as a result of the accident, lost $32,000 in wages and accumulated $56,000 in medical bills, his attorney said.

He was able to join the racing circuit again last summer, Mr. Williams said.

This is not the first racing accident in which Mr. Keegan has been involved during his more than 25 years of racing experience.

In May, 1995, Mr. Keegan's sprint car smashed into a 12-foot-highwooden flag stand at the Fremont Speedway, killing flagman Michael Holman, 44, of Fremont.

In that case, Mr. Keegan was sued but was ultimately declared an uninsured motorist because he carried no race car insurance.

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