OAK RIDGE — It was a scene of utter chaos.
Saturday night’s city fireworks celebration, seen by thousands, suddenly turned into bedlam when an elderly man drove backward through a crowded parking lot, striking vehicles and people.
James Robinson was one of some 200 people in front of the Midtown Community Center off Oak Ridge Turnpike.
He reportedly saw the red Dodge Ram backing toward his family and pushed his older daughter, Jaide, out of the truck’s path and to safety.
Robinson, 37, of Knoxville, was struck by the truck, according to reports, and rushed by ambulance to Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, where he died of his injuries.
“He died a hero, by pushing his oldest daughter, Jaide, out of the way of the approaching vehicle,” according to family friend Ria Lively.
Lively, who describes herself as best friends with Robinson’s widow, Julia Robinson, has set up a page on the website, gofundme, to help defray funeral expenses. By midafternoon Monday, $3,400 had been pledged. Robinson is also survived by a younger daughter, Jaclynn.
District Attorney General Dave Clark, on a ride-a-long nearby with an Oak Ridge police officer, said he arrived at the scene within about 90 seconds.
“People seemed stunned and concerned,” he said, adding that members of the crowd were cooperative as numerous emergency vehicles arrived at the scene, the Midtown Community Center at the corner of Oak Ridge Turnpike and Robertsville Road.
Several of the nine people who were injured “were on the ground near different vehicles,” Clark said. Police said eight vehicles were struck by 65-year-old Lee Cromwell’s pickup as it backed through the parking lot, which has only one entrance and exit onto Robertsville Road.
People were hurt, both by Cromwell’s vehicle and by “other vehicles forcefully moved during the crash event,” according to a city news release.
Clark said he spoke to several of those injured, and said those with whom he spoke sustained “scrapes, strains bumps and bruises.”
The news release said an ambulance took an adult and two juveniles to University of Tennessee Medical Center, four juveniles were transported to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, and two adults were taken by ambulance to Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge. The names of those injured haven’t been released, but the news release stated they sustained nonlife-threatening injuries.
Cromwell wasn’t injured. He was interviewed at the scene and wasn’t taken into custody. Clark said he doesn’t know if Cromwell was tested for drugs and alcohol, which is standard procedure.
The news release didn’t indicate whether he was given a drug and alcohol screening and stated no further details would be released at this time.
Clark said it would be “premature” for him to say whether charges will be filed as the investigation remains in progress.
The site is a prime viewing area for the city’s annual fireworks display, ignited a couple of hundred yards away in the middle of A.K. Bissell Park across the turnpike from the community center, the former Wildcat Den and current headquarters for the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Emergency dispatchers were flooded with 911 calls, and firetrucks, police cruisers and ambulances rolled in within minutes.
Three fire engines and a rescue truck from the city fire department responded, Fire Chief Darryl Kerley said, and four Anderson County ambulances were dispatched.
Clark said the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department brought in six cruisers and personnel to perform routine patrol operations because the entire police department shift was involved in the parking lot investigation.