INDIANAPOLIS -- A spectator was killed at the Indianapolis 500 Sunday by a tire that bounced off a race car and bounded into the top row of the grandstand.
Lyle Kurtenbach, 42, of Rothschild, Wis., a suburb of Wausau, was struck by a tire that flew off Tony Bettenhausen's car during the 130th lap. The tire bounced off the front of the car driven by Roberto Guerrero before careening 30 feet to the grandstand's top row in the short chute between turns three and four.
The last fatality at the race was driver Gordon Smiley, who died during practice in 1982. Kurtenbach became the first spectator to die at auto racing's most prestigious event since two Indiana residents perished in 1960 when scaffolding collapsed.
Ten spectators have been killed in the history of the race. The Wisconsin man was the third spectator at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to be killed by a tire. The other two deaths occurred in 1931 and 1938.
Kurtenbach, a cement additives salesman, regularly attends the Indy 500. He traveled by van to this year's race as part of a family reunion with 10 relatives from North Dakota, Minnesota and Kansas. Among the relatives were his wife and stepdaughter.
Many drivers and most of the half million spectators left the track unaware of Kurtenbach's death. Track officials said they did not release the information until they had all details of the incident.
'Bettenhausen feels awful,' said Ted Quackenbush, spokesman for Bettenhausen's team. 'He's really all upset about this. The wheel had been on 56 laps, so you know this was not a pit stop mistake because we had been in twice already. When it's on 56 laps like that, something else happened.
'Basically, he was going into turn two and felt the wheel coming loose. He kept it (the car) from hitting the wall, brought it down low, and the wheel came off.'
Kevin Frisby, a staff member of the race track ambulatory service, said the Wisconsin man was revived briefly but seemed to be dead before being flown by helicopter to Methodist Hospital. He was pronounced dead at 1:46 p.m. EST. The race ended at 2:07 p.m.
'Of course I feel badly about this,' Guerrero said. 'I don't know what else to say.'
A spectator who saw the crash but asked not to be identified said people in the stands tried to get out of the way of the tire.
'The family did not witness it,' he said. 'Everybody ducked. They didn't see him get hit.'
In all, there were three incidents during the race in which wheels came off cars. The other two drivers to lose tires were Ludwig Heimrath and Arie Luyendyk.
Guerrero, who said he did not know about the fatality until after finishing second in the race, trailed leader Mario Andretti at the time of the accident.
'It scared the heck out of me,' Guerrero said of getting hit by the wheel. 'I'm lucky to be sitting here. Bettenhausen was going very slowly in the apron then all of a sudden his right front wheel came right in front of me. The tire hit my car head on and bounced.'
Kurtenbach is survived by his wife Karen and the stepdaughter, Dawn.
'We've lived next door to him for several years,' said neighbor Kathryn Pietsch. 'He was a very good neighbor, a very nice guy. We're very sad we lost him.
'The last several years, they made (Indy) a family and friends outing. I talked to them last weekend and they were very excited to be going again.'
An autopsy was scheduled for Monday morning. Funeral services were incomplete.