They label it “America’s Greatest Homecoming”, and if you can’t tell from the name, it’s a big deal. A sea of orange nearly 100,000 strong floods the streets of Stillwater every year, but on Saturday morning celebration turned to mourning as tragedy struck Stillwater.
“I saw people start running that way with hands over their mouths and blood draining from their faces. I knew something pretty wrong had happened.” Zach Gray of Stillwater told NewsOK.com
Something wrong had happened. As the homecoming parade came to a close a car plowed into the crowd of parade goers at a fairly high rate of speed; killing four and injuring 47 others.
“We were facing the parade and heard tires squealing and then started to hear the car hitting things and people and there was screaming and people running away.” Megan Lantz told NewsOK.com. “I think the car was going between 45 and 50 MPH, and it just barreled into everybody that was there.”
Unfortunately, the people of Oklahoma and those donning ‘America’s Brightest Orange’ aren’t new to tragedy. In 1995 a bomb set off outside the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people. In 2001 a plane carrying the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team crashed in the Colorado high plains killing ten. And in 2011 a plane crash killed Oklahoma State’s women’s basketball head coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna.
“One thing I do know about Oklahoma people. They’re strong,” Governor Mary Fallin said in a press conference. “They’re very compassionate. They believe in prayer. They believe in comforting people and helping during a time of crisis and need. We’ll get through this again. But certainly it’s a very painful experience for those of us here, and certainly for all Oklahomans.”
Police arrested 25-year-old Adacia Avery Chambers at the scene on suspicion of driving under the influence. Payne County Attorney Laura Austin Thomas later clarified that alcohol is not thought to be a factor, but rather Chambers is suspected of being under the influence of drugs. Currently Chambers is being held on four counts of manslaughter, and will go before a judge Monday. Bond conditions, if any, should be determined then.
As the Cowboy community mourns, part of the healing process began Saturday afternoon. Oklahoma State defeated the winless Jayhawks 58-10 just a short walk from where police continued to process the scene. All of a sudden football didn’t seem very important anymore, but they decided to play the game in honor of those who had just lost their lives.
“I just want to start by saying how sorry our staff, the Oklahoma State family and our team is about the incident earlier today.” head coach Mike Gundy said after the game. “I don’t know a lot of details. At one time, there was some discussion, because of the impact on the families and the people involved, of whether to play the game or not.
“Those decisions are made kind of higher than me. I was willing to support whatever direction they wanted to go. I don’t think that that’s something that’s up for discussion at this point, but it was really difficult for our coaching staff, our team and myself, being an Oklahoma State alum. It was a very unfortunate situation, so our thoughts and prayers from all of us go out to the families.
“I do want to reiterate that this one incident cannot take away from Oklahoma State University, and it cannot take away from homecoming and the celebration. That’s something that’s very important to us and to me, to make a point that it is a great time of the year. It’s a great weekend and a great day, and there’s a tremendous amount of pride and effort that goes into our homecoming, and that’s why it has been established the way that it is. I don’t want anything to be taken away from that.
“We told [our team] the truth. That’s the way we handle situations in our group, with good news, bad news or any news at all. There’s really no comparison to a tragic incident like this morning, but we told them the truth in our pregame conversation before we came to the stadium. Part of the development of young people in our organization is knowing that there are things in our lives that we can control, and there are things that we can’t control.
“Today’s incident was something we couldn’t do anything about. There was certainly not anything we could do if we were going to play the game. Our players understand that. My message to them was that a decision was made to play the game so we need to play the game. After that, we need to do everything we can to help the people and the families involved.”