Oct. 07--Before engines roared around the temporary course set for Sunday's Grand Prix of Houston, Joshua Sanders directed his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter into the seats at his left -- as far from Turn 5 of the race track as his back row tickets allowed.
Just a day earlier, he and a friend sitting in the front row of grand stand No. 4 noted the IndyCars slipped a little as they rounded the mid-track curve.
"If there's going to be a wreck, it's going to be here," Sanders said he told others, assuming the cement at Reliant Park was uneven. "Marbles" of round rubber peeled from tires rolled across the surface.
By the last lap shortly after 2:35 p.m. Sunday, his girlfriend and her daughter had left for the kiddie games. The Houston man and his parents cheered as the leaders blinked past toward the finish at more than 150 mph.
Seventeen seconds later, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti moved outside to pass Takuma Sato. Sato's wheels slipped and clipped Franchitti's car.
It flew into the fence.
A stretch at least 10 feet long and an attached pole bent, then tore free and launched into the crowd along with chunks of cement, wire splinters and hot pieces of Franchitti's car as it exploded into flames.
The fence crashed through Sanders' previous seats to land on fans three rows ahead of him. He checked on his family, then teens and an elderly couple seated nearby before joining a surge of shocked bystanders who lifted the fence. As emergency crews, police and event staff rushed to the scene, crowd members passed the fence overhead to the back row, eventually giving up on an attempt to throw it over a barrier.
Sanders, who was impressed by the automatic response of spectators to help each other, saw people with cuts across their arms and some pressing hands against head wounds.
"If we had been sitting where we were yesterday, we would have been hit pretty bad," he said.
On site paramedics reviewed and treated 13 fans, according to Houston Fire Department spokesman Ruy Lozano. Two were taken to area hospitals with unspecified injuries. A race official with minor injuries and Franchitti -- who suffered a concussion, broken ankle and two fractured vertebrae, according to news reports -- were taken by ambulance to Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Some race fans on Twitter and Facebook criticized race management for having the "catch fence," designed to keep crashing cars on the track and out of stands, too close to spectator seats and questioned why set-up crews did not tie the temporary barrier to safety cables, a standard precaution.
Spokesmen from Mi-Jack Promotions, the race's promoter, and IndyCar did not return a request for comment about the safety critiques.
Sanders and others in the damaged section reported event staff confronted fans who tried to take photos or videos of the damage.
Butch Mancuso and his 5-year-old son watched the crash on a TV monitor from their seats near a different turn.
"When you see it on TV it almost doesn't seem real," he said.
The Spring Branch resident walked to that section after the race and ignored event staff to snap a photo as a bitter memento for his father-in-law, a faithful fan who had sat in those same seats Friday.
Mancuso waited two hours to learn whether officials still planned to honor tickets for the day's last two races. Walking to the almost empty parking lot after learning the final events were canceled, he clicked through photos on his camera of his son posing near cars and visiting exhibits.
Those memories are what's important, Mancuso said. He would not hesitate to attend another race.
"I can get hit here, or I can get hit driving home," he said. "I'm not going to live in fear."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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