A member of a male choir group inadvertently beat his colleagues in a Pride parade in South Florida on Saturday, killing one of the group’s choirs and seriously injuring another, authorities said.
Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Paul Rolli and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said early investigations revealed it was an accident. The 77-year-old driver was arrested, but police said no charges have been made and the investigation is still ongoing.
He was driving forward in anticipation of the start of the parade when the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly and hit the two, Fort Lauderdale police said in a press release. He’s cooperating with the police, who say it is unlikely that drugs or alcohol were involved. No arrests were made.
The survivor should recover, the police said.
The “unfortunate accident” was first confirmed by President Justin Knight, along with the fact that the driver is a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus family of 25.
“Our Chorus colleagues were the injured and the driver is also part of the Chorus family. To the best of my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” Knight said in a statement to the Associated Press, highlighting initial speculation about a hate crime.
Joey Spears, 25, told USA TODAY on Saturday that he was walking to the start of the parade when he saw the truck drive through the crowd.
“All of a sudden I see this truck come loose and just go through people,” Spears said.
Spears recorded a video of the episode showing a person on the ground. Spears said he and the people he was with were cornered by police in a local high school parking lot for about an hour before they were allowed to leave the area. Then they started to march.
The Wilton Manors Pride event takes place annually in June, according to the event’s website. The city is a town in Broward County with about 13,000 residents, according to the US Census Bureau.
Trantalis, the first openly gay mayor of Fort Lauderdale, initially told reporters the act was intentional, adding to the confusion on Saturday night.
“It terrorized me and everyone around me … I feared it might be deliberate based on what I saw meters away,” he said in a Twitter statement on Sunday. “As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture emerges of an accident in which a truck went out of control.”
Photos and videos of the scene showed the US Democratic MP Debbie Wasserman Schultz tearfully in a convertible at the parade.
In a statement on Saturday evening, Wasserman Schultz said she was safe but “deeply shaken and devastated that a life was lost”.
“I am so sad about what happened at that celebration,” she said. “May the memory of the lost life be a blessing.”
A spokesman for the choir said the director did not want to give interviews. Many members of the small group witnessed the fatal crash and were deeply shaken.
“The reason people are like Wilton Manors is because the whole community is one big family, and that’s how we treat each other … and that really shook a lot of people,” Rolli said. “Even if it’s an accident, it’s just the loss of a life.”
Featuring: Grace Hauck, USA TODAY; Associated press