By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
The woman who plowed through a church crowd last year, fatally injuring a pedestrian, never applied the brakes in her vehicle, according to a report being published today.
Waunona Reed-Thurman, 85, of Klamath, probably mistook her accelerator pedal for the brake when her vehicle raced through a crowd of people and slammed into the Cornerstone Assembly of God Church last September, the report says.
"The brake was never deployed," said Lieutenant Commander Lyle Radtke of the Highway Patrol. "The diagnostics showed the accelerator was deployed 100 percent and the brake system was never deployed during the entire event."
Radtke said a Sensing Diagnostic Module in Reed-Thurman's 2001 Chevy Blazer recorded the driver's actions.
"It's similar to the black box (in an airplane). It has a variety of sensors that monitor a number of functions, like whether or not the airbag was deployed, if the seatbelt was used, the rpm (revolutions per minute) and the speed of the vehicle," Radtke said.
Reed-Thurman was the sole occupant of her vehicle when it sped through the church parking lot last year. Twenty-one people were injured when her SUV plowed through concession stands and tents set up in the parking lot for the church's annual food giveaway. Cathy Brandt, 46, of Crescent City, later died from her injuries.
Witness testimony and diagnostic results had to be analyzed before an accident report could be published, Radtke said.
"There were 72 witnesses that had to be interviewed, along with 30 involved parties who were either injured or had their vehicles damaged," he said.
According to the report, Reed-Thurman dropped off family members at the church and was watching the event from her vehicle when she decided to move her vehicle to another location.
"Presumably she moved locations to get a better view," said Radtke. "She backed out of the space, and then, when she put the vehicle in drive, the engine raced and it lurched forward."
The vehicle accelerated through the parking lot, hitting three cars before crashing through a barricade and ramming through tents and concession stands filled with people.
"It continued on after that and struck the main church building, causing major structural damage," said Radtke. "The engine was still racing until someone reached in and turned off the engine."
Witnesses claimed Reed-Thurman appeared in shock and tightly grasped the steering wheel during the incident.
Reed-Thurman was cleared after being tested for impairments and alcohol at the time. Radtke said the case will now be turned over to the Del Norte County District Attorney's Office for a determination, which is routine whenever a death is involved.
Because of Reed-Thurman's age, she had to pass a mandatory driving test in recent years.
"When drivers reach the age of 70, the (driving) tests are required again," Radtke said. "It's not uncommon for people of this age to put their foot on the throttle instead of the brake and crash into buildings, into Highway Patrol vehicles and even into DMV offices."