The widow of a drag-racer who died after crashing into a wall at South Jersey's Atco Speedway in 2010 is suing the raceway, claiming negligence.
Jose Cruz went to Atco on Sept. 15, 2010, to participate in a day of drag-racing, according to the lawsuit filed last Wednesday in federal court in Camden by his widow Evelyn Cruz of Brooklyn.
During one run on the track, he crashed his car into a wall, and the car caught fire with him inside, according to the lawsuit, which the Courthouse News Service reported Tuesday.
While an ambulance was on-site with a crew capable of dousing fires, the vehicle wouldn't start when Cruz crashed, forcing Cruz's son, the Atco owner and other Atco staffers to run to Cruz to help put out the flames, according to the lawsuit.
Cruz suffered second- and third-degree burns, according to the lawsuit. He died about a year after the crash.
"Atco charged patrons a fee and held itself out as a safe environment for experienced drag car racers to engage in a highly dangerous activity," attorney Jennie Shatynsky wrote in the lawsuit.
Evelyn Cruz seeks $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages from Atco and the National Hot Rod Association, the California-based group that promotes amateur and professional drag racing in the United States and sanctions Atco races.
Shatynsky couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Joe Sway Sr., Atco's owner, denied the lawsuit claims.
"The ambulance was on scene; it has to be when we're racing. The ambulance was functional. And we have a fire-suppression system on a pickup truck, which was operational and did respond," Sway said.
Besides, "the driver was out of the car by the time the first responder got to him," Sway added.
The 52-year-old speedway, located in the southern Camden County burg of Atco, claims to be the busiest legal drag strip in the country, its popularity due in part to crackdowns on illegal drag-racing in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Anyone can race, so long as they pay the fee, wear a helmet, have a driver's license and drive a street-legal vehicle.