BILLERICA, Mass. - An elderly auto auction employee drove an SUV through a massive crowd and slammed into a cinder block wall this morning, in an apparent "tragic accident" that killed three and hospitalized nine, the Middlesex district attorney said.
One man and two women were killed in the gruesome 10:15 a.m. crash at Lynnway Auto Auctions in Billerica, District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said today. Eight other people were seriously injured, including two with life-threatening injuries, Ryan siad, and one relative of a person who was killed was hospitalized for stress.
The driver, who is in his 70s, was not hospitalized, Ryan said. He was driving a 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
"As this vehicle began to enter the building, following a pace behind the car in front of it, it suddenly accelerated, traveled through the inside of the building at a high rate of speed, striking numerous people and ultimately was brought to a halt by crashing into a cinder block wall at the far end," Ryan said.
Auction attendee Doc Kagan, who runs an auto service and sales company in Revere, described the impact.
“It sounded like a bomb went off -- people laying out on the floor in front of the car, people from the auction yelling for people to get outside,” said Kagan, who had just walked past one of the seven or eight auction lanes in the building when he heard the collision. The SUV accelerated and ran through a crowd before ramming into a car that had already been sold off before hitting a wall, he said.
“All of the sudden I heard this huge — I thought it was a bomb — it went through the brick wall and it hit another car waiting to leave," Kagan said. "There were people in front of it and people behind."
“The sight wasn’t right. Blood was coming out of someone’s head on the floor,” he added.
Kagan said he ran out of the building as instructed.
“Too bad from a day’s work, people are ending up getting injured, hurt or worse,” said Kagan, who regularly attends the weekly auction.
Four patients were taken to Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, including one who died, a doctor said.
The patients were men and women ranging in ages from 30s to 60s, Dr. Casper Reske-Nielsen said. Two are currently in critical condition and the third is stable.
"One of the patients is in the operating room right now," he said. "(They) have a long road ahead of them."
Auction attendee Geraldo Lima, 46 of Somerville, estimated about 2,000 people were inside when the Jeep zipped about three feet from him, mowing down people for about 80 yards before slamming into a concrete wall with such force it cracked it.
"I saw the Jeep Cherokee driving through people," he said. "I was right next to the car -- I jumped away."
"I heard a lot of people screaming, yelling and then running from the accident. There was a lot of blood. ... It was so fast," Lima said.
People screamed and writhed in pain for minutes, Lima said. Once medics arrived, he saw them performing CPR on multiple victims. He said he saw at least one sheet laid over a person.
When asked if his life flashed before his eyes and felt lucky, Lima said, "For sure. Many people are hurt."
Jerome Jjooga, a Billerica car dealer, said he was checking out cars and heard a loud bang like an explosion and saw smoke.
“I’m lucky I’m alive,” he said.
Fredrick Kyazze, another witness, said he had already purchased two cars and was standing feet away when the Jeep drove into the crowd.
“We were just lucky,” he said, recounting how the injured lay strewn on the floor. “These are people you had just seen minutes ago."
Auction attendee Moses Alencar, 47, of Everett, who speaks Portuguese, said through a translator: "I've never seen a runaway car crash, people running fast, people picking up people. Three people died at the time, very bloody, several people injured."
In a press release shortly after the crash, state police said there is no evidence to suggest the incident was caused by an intentional or terrorist act.
"All evidence and information at this time suggests an accidental cause," state police said. "The investigation by Billerica and State Police is ongoing."