BILLERICA (CBS) — Witnesses described a gruesome and chaotic scene at a Billerica auto auction Wednesday morning after a Jeep Grand Cherokee plowed into a crowd of people, killing three and injuring several more.
“First, I just heard the screeching, and like normal, when I hear something or see people panicking, I run toward it,” he said. “They got the vehicle shut down, and they just started working on people that were hurt.”
Witnesses told WBZ-TV’s Beth Germano that the car pinned several people against the wall when it crashed.
“He was going fast, he was going really fast,” said one witness. “I’d say 25, 30 miles per hour.”
“It just happened, you know, like in the blink of an eye,” Geraldo, a dealer who has been coming to the auction for about ten years, told WBZ-TV. “Yelling, so loud, and people jumping around and running out of the auction, because you don’t know what’s happening,”
He said the car drove from one end of the auction building to the other, hitting and running over several people.
“So many people got hurt, I have no idea,” he said. “There’s too much damage because there’s so many people … around 2,000 people in that auction … not too much space, that’s the reason the damage is so big.”
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan confirmed that one man and two women were killed in the crash.
“The auction people came over, they responded right away,” one man told WBZ-TV. “They came, tried to help, performing CPR and stuff … There was a guy in front, seemed like he wasn’t doing too well. There was two ladies in the back…one of them seemed like she passed away.”
Rick Ianelli told WBZ-TV he was at the auction trying to purchase a car.
“My car was due to come through lane E, which was right next to where the accident occurred,” he said. “I was sitting there, and I heard a big boom.”
Ianelli said the auction is typically very packed with people inspecting the cars before they put in a bid.
“They were all rushing toward the front of the building and I saw the front wall of the building had collapsed, and a car was in there,” he said. “I ran outside, and I saw three people that were on the ground, and they seemed to look like they were employees of the auction because they were wearing the orange vests that they typically wear.”
The driver of that Jeep was a man in his 70s employed by the auction. Just what caused him to drive into and over the crowds was not yet known.
Geraldo said the driver was an older man who he had seen working at the auction regularly.
“It’s an accident, 100 percent it was an accident,” he said.
Sources told WBZ-TV Chief Investigative Reporter Cheryl Fiandaca the investigation is centering on whether the driver had a medical emergency. That driver was taken away in an ambulance.
“I heard that he spoke to someone after and said after that he put it in park, and that’s when it took off on him,” Horne said about the driver. “I wouldn’t rule out a mechanical failure.
Wissam Merhab, another dealer who was inside at the time of the crash, told WBZ-TV the cars usually drive slowly through lanes packed with people.
“The cars go slowly through the lane, we run about 800 cars every week,” he said. “One of the drivers, someone told me maybe he had a heart attack … At least three, four people seriously injured.”
He told WBZ-TV he was next to the Jeep right away.
“He hit one guy, the guy was under the car,” Merhab said. “We pulled the car back to try to get the guy out … I saw blood from his head, he was suffering on the floor.”
Lynnway Auto Auction Sales Manager Dana Duchak told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 he wasn’t there at the time of the crash, but came right after. He said nothing like this had happened in the past.
“No, not at all, this is the first occurrence, unusual to say the least,” he said. “We don’t know what caused it or anything at this point.”
Horne said the auction was one of the best he’s ever been to.
“It’s just unfortunate, it could happen anywhere,” he said.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Jon MacLean reports