Sunday, May 27, 2018
Public safety

12-year-old race car driver dies from injuries sustained in crash

ST. PETERSBURG — A 12-year-old boy who crashed into a wall during a children's race last weekend at Auburndale Speedway has died, authorities said.

Tyler Morr, who lived in Arcadia, died at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

He had been there since Saturday night with critical injuries.

According to the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Tyler had been traveling about 40 mph along the oval in Winter Haven with four other young racers when he lost control of the car.

He was participating in an eight-lap contest called a "Kids Club" race, a regularly scheduled event for youths ages 10 to 16.

Authorities said Tyler's No. 17 black stock race car collided with another vehicle then slammed into a wall about 7:45 p.m. as his grandfather watched.

Emergency responders had to cut the boy out of his car.

Through a hospital spokeswoman, his family declined to speak to the media Wednesday.

Parents of other racers called Tyler's death tragic and sad. They said efforts are under way to raise money for his family. But they also said deaths and serious injuries in the sport are rare.

"(This) doesn't make me second guess it at all," said Scott Freitas, 41, of New Port Richey, whose 9-year-old son AJ has won national races. "We can't put our children in bubbles. We have to allow them to do what they're passionate about."

AJ Freitas has raced since he was 5. He has crashed at the same speedway as Tyler but has walked away with just bruises.

Scott Freitas and other parents said they and their children know the risks of racing.

But they feel it's not any more dangerous than other youth sports, like football or baseball. Serious injuries, and even death, can happen when kids do those activities too, they said.

"It can happen with any of the sports," said Charlene Lively, 35, of Riverview, whose 13- and 15-year-old sons also race at Auburndale. "I think people get caught up because it's a car — the thought of a child driving a car. There's a lot more to it. There is training and safety equipment."

For instance, Scott Freitas said his son not only has a seat belt, but also a neck and head restraint system, a special helmet, and gloves, shoes and clothes that are fire-resistant. He also has a custom driver's seat tailored to his frame.

Most kids also go through a training school before they start racing, parents said.

Lively, who witnessed Tyler's crash Saturday night, said she has had many conversations with her sons in the past few days about racing. They've been doing it for eight years.

"They're still very comfortable," she said. "They're still willing to take that chance."

She is, too.

Lively said she and her family will return to the speedway on Saturday.

There, they will remember Tyler, and continue to race.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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