Taybor Duncan loved go-kart racing.
"She said she was going to be the next Danica Patrick with blonde hair," explained her mother Tracy.
At 9 years old, Taybor was an accomplished and experienced racer, having competed locally and nationally.
"She was one of these kids that when she took a liking to something, she was really good at it," said her father, Jason.
In August, 2010 Taybor was killed in a crash at the Grand Junction Motor Speedway.
"Never crossed my mind that she would be killed racing a go-kart, Taybor's mother told CALL7 Investigator Tony Kovaleski in the family's first interview.
You just never think that a child can pass away. You never think they're going to die, said Jason.
Taybor started racing with the Colorado Junior Karting Club when she was 6 years old. To those unfamiliar with kart racing, it seems like a tender age, but actually its quite common for children to start young.
"From the moment she was born, she loved everything with wheels," said Taybor's grandfather, Larry Duncan. "She wanted to be a NASCAR driver and she wanted to be the next Danica Patrick and there's no doubt in my mind she would have accomplished that."
"As we got more involved in karting, it really drew our family very, very close," explained Jason. "It's a great sport, if done properly."
The Day Taybor Died
It was nine days after Taybor's birthday. She and her family were preparing for her next race -- and for a party.
"I promised her that we would celebrate like we did in years past, at the track. She enjoyed that," said her father.
While Taybor's birthday cake was sitting in a refrigerator at the track, she was in her go-kart on a timed practice run.
"We did a quick safety check, we talked about what we wanted to accomplish at this particular 10-minute session and I remember putting her on the [track]," said Jason. "Within short order, Taybor was out there doing her thing, overtaking karts and moving up and putting fast times down."
"She was having a good day?" asked Kovaleski.
"Probably the best day ever that she would have had," said her mother.
Taybor was traveling about 50 mph. She was on the long straightaway at the Grand Junction Motor Speedway having just crossed the Start/Finish line.
"We were putting down times that I thought were unbeatable in her particular class," explained her father.
At the speedway, there is metal structure with a sign over the Start/Finish line that is connected to the flag tower. Posts on either side of the track hold up the sign and flag tower. The posts are surrounded by hay bales.
As was his ritual, Jason was watching his daughter intensely.
"She had just come back from a national competition in Indianapolis and she'd done real well there, so her confidence was sky-high," explained her father.
He watched the collision.
"She had just passed a competitor on the previous corner and, out from behind these hay bales, here comes a track worker on a four-wheeler with a trailer designed to pick up broken down go-karts," said Jason. "She had no time to react, doing 50 mph, and she hit the tail end of the trailer."
The impact was so forceful it knocked the four-wheeler and trailer onto its side.
"Parts of the cart exploded and I just remember total shock," said Jason.
Following her ritual, Tracy was working on other race day business.
"I just heard this horrific noise and thought, 'Oh my God what was that,' and I kind of had to lean back and I saw it was Taybor. I had coffee. I threw it, I ran," said Tracy. "They were pulling her out of her cart. I was the one that unbuckled her helmet and they pulled it off. I took her chest protector and her gloves off and I was just holding her hands and her eyes never changed, ever."
"One of the parents in our club... a trauma surgeon, thank God, she came over there and immediately started CPR on Taybor," her father explained. "At this time, you don't know. I don't know if she just has broken bones or if she's just been knocked out.
"And I'm screaming, where's the ambulance. I saw the ambulance when we went to the track," said Jason.
Like many sporting events, both amateur and professional, Taybor's parents told Kovaleski that the Colorado Junior Karting Club had a deal with an ambulance company to be on-site and provide emergency services if needed.
But the ambulance service was not at the Grand Junction track that day. Instead, Taybor's parents explained, the vehicle that appeared to be the on-site ambulance was nothing of the sort. And, they said, the driver of the ambulance was Stacey Cook, the owner of the Grand Junction Motor Speedway.
"He's driving the ambulance that just sits at his track," said Tracy.
"Is he a paramedic?" asked Kovaleski.
"I don't know," she replied.
"I remember [Cook] pulling the gurney out of the back and there were bags of ice and bottled water and it appeared to be, kind of, a party wagon," explained Taybor's father. "Whatever else was in there appeared to be beer cans and everything started rolling out when he pulled the gurney out. Everything just fell out of the back of the ambulance. Cans were bouncing around and bottles of water and ice and whatever else."
Taybor would never be placed in that "ambulance." Someone had called 911 and firefighters and paramedics responded to the track.
"They immediately took control of the situation," Jason told Kovaleski.
Taybor was rushed to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction.
"They took her in and were working on her and they said 'You can see her now,' and I thought 'Oh God, I can't wait to see her,'" said Tracy. "One of the nurses was crying and the doctor said, 'I'm sorry, there's nothing more we can do for her.'"
"I remember [the doctor] looking at the wall. I remember him reporting the time, and I remember him writing down the time that she was gone," said Taybor's father. "I just kept saying 'No, please try something else. Please, for me, try.' And I remember hitting the floor and trying to pray as hard and as fast as I could for a miracle to bring her back to us."
The coroner later determined that Taybor had died instantly.
Taybor's Parents Claim Track, Kart Club Unprepared And Unsafe
A grand jury in Mesa County has investigated the death of Taybor Duncan to determine if any criminal charges are warranted. They have turned their findings over to the District Attorney, however, at this time the grand jury report remains sealed.
Taybor's parents are suing the Colorado Junior Kart Club, Grand Junction Motor Speedway and others whom they believe were responsible for -- and failed to run -- a safe event.
"I just felt that without us saying anything, without us protecting other kids in this particular sport, if we just sat on our hands and we left it up to track owners and club operators and those types of individuals, that this kind of thing is going to continue to go on," said Jason. "How would I go to sleep every night knowing I did nothing? And so, how do I have a voice? I have a voice because I can use the legal system."
"I don't think [the track owners and club officials] were quite ready to go that day," said Tracy.
"Do you take any responsibility for what happened back on August 15th?" Kovaleski asked Stacey Cook, owner of the Grand Junction Motor Speedway.
"I think everybody does, absolutely," said Cook. He explained that, because of the lawsuit, he could not talk about the crash in detail.
"People want to make sure that safety precautions have been put in place to make sure what happened last August doesn't happen again," said Kovaleski.
"Absolutely, and safety precautions were in place back then too," said Cook.
At the time of Taybor's death, the vice-president of the Colorado Junior Karting Club was Jay Jacobellis. 7NEWS repeatedly asked Jacobellis for an on-camera interview, but Kovaleski's calls were not returned.
Experts Believe Series Of Failures Contributed To Taybor's Death
The CALL7 Investigators have spoken to witnesses of Taybor's crash as well as other track owners and experts in the go-karting industry.
Due to the lawsuit and politics within the kart racing community, some asked that 7NEWS not reveal their names, but all offered a perspective.
Some said they believe Taybor's death was simply the result of a tragic accident. Others said it could and should have been have been prevented.
"Racing can always be improved," said one expert, who asked us not to use his name, but he's been around the sport since 1963 and has raced, on and off, since 1977. He explained that children, while racing, often look at what's right in front of them and not further down the track unless diligently coached to do so.
It's one reason, several experts said, the adults working the track and running the event need to be extra vigilant and well-trained. But, one expert explained, that isn't always the case. "We're talking about small budgets, and people working for free in some cases, so theres always going to be short-comings at this level of racing. It can't be as safe as NASCAR." He believes, like in many professional races, there should be a "walk-around" of the track with every driver, pointing out potential safety issues.
"It really was a series of cascading failures," said Doug Welch, owner of Shockwave Karting. "I've talked to pretty much all of the principals so I know really what happened."
Welch and other experts explained three critical areas which they believe contributed to Taybor's death, specifically a lack of control over the August 15, 2010 event by race officials including little or no communication with the driver of the four-wheeler.
"It didn't have a race director whose total task was to control what goes on at the track," said Welch.
Second, experts and witnesses told 7NEWS they believe those who were supposed to oversee the race allowed some spectators, families and friends too close to the action where they may have been a distraction or obstructed views.
"The parents should not have been on the edge of the track," said Welch. "There's a fence. The parents should have been standing back, behind the fence, but they were not."
Finally, other track owners and experts pointed to dangerous blind spots caused by the flag tower and hay bales. One track owner, who asked not to be named, told 7NEWS, "I wouldn't run a track that way."
Another expert explained that nearly all tracks have some blind spots, but Welch said the Grand Junction track is particularly concerning to him.
"I really like the track. It's one of the best in the country, but it has some inherent safety issues and those were contributing factors in Taybor's death," said Welch. "Taybor is coming around the corner and you have this archway with these hay bales blocking the line of sight, you've got these parents down there blocking the line of sight and this man on this ATV having to look through this gauntlet... all this stuff in the way. He makes a decision, a bad decision."
One expert explained it's something he's seen frequently -- people and equipment entering a track while it's "hot" meaning racers are on the track under a green flag and at full speed. He, and others, believe the practice to be dangerous.
Statistics Show Go-Kart Racing To Be Safe
"In 15 years of racing, I can count on one hand the number of serious accidents, let alone fatalities, in go-karting. It just doesn't happen," said Welch.
Research by the Consumer Product Safety Commission bolsters that claim.
Their most recent study was over a 12-year period from 1985 through 1996. In that time, the CPSC noted 155 deaths of children under the age of 15 involving go-karts, but only one of the deaths specifically described in the report occurred at a race track.
Others were children riding home-made karts, riding on public streets and even falling off while sitting in someone's lap. And in many cases, the children were not wearing all of the proper safety gear that is required in organized racing.
"Karting is an inherently safe sport. Of all the motor sports it's probably the safest single one," said Welch.
In an effort to raise awareness about track safety, and as a way to keep her memory alive, Taybor's parents are working on a foundation in their daughter's name.
"We lost that special child and we can't get that back. I'm angry, but I also have faith," said her father. "So we're going to try and find a way to refocus that anger into something that'll eventually be positive ... through Taybor's Foundation or her charity she'll continue to touch many, many lives and hopefully save many, many lives."
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