While spectators at Ross's Landing cheered on three competitors in what turned out to be the closest Ironman finish in history on Sept. 27, first responders were racing toward a different location on the Ironman Chattanooga course.
Minutes before Kirill Kotsegarov collapsed across the finish line in victory, Ironman bicyclist Steve Ross collided with a car being pulled by a tow truck after a traffic director from the Chattanooga Police Department signaled for the truck to cross the street. The accident left Ross with a collapsed lung, broken ribs and other internal injuries, according to an incident report obtained Tuesday.
The crash happened at the intersection of Alton Park Boulevard and West 37th Street. A 64-year-old police service technician, who was tasked with controlling traffic during the race, motioned for the tow truck to cross Alton Park Boulevard in between waves of cyclists, according to the report. He told investigators he didn't realize it was pulling a car behind it.
Ross was speeding north on Alton Park Boulevard at 23 miles per hour and said he could not stop in time to avoid colliding with the car being towed. Ross said he was 30-40 yards from the intersection when the truck entered the intersection, according to the incident report.
Police service technicians are uniformed employees but not certified officers. They generally assist with traffic control or minor traffic accidents.
Neither Ironman organizers nor police made any public mention of the crash in the days after the race. Chattanooga's second full Ironman received great reviews and the city officially landed the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships two days later. The Times Free Press had to file a public records request with city police to get the accident report.
Ross was taken to Erlanger hospital from the scene of the accident. A GoFundMe page set up in the wake of the accident said he sustained a hemothorax — a collection of blood in the space between the chest wall and the lung — and a bleeding spleen. The page also said he would need to have ribs plated.
GoFundMe is a website that allows users to raise money for specific causes. The page with the information about Ross indicated that contributions would be used for medical and travel expenses.
The page raised $7,985, meeting its goal of $5,000 within four hours.
Ross, who is from Ottowa, Canada, declined to comment. Ironman officials also did not respond to an inquiry about the accident on Tuesday.
In the incident report, the police service technician said he did not realize the tow truck was pulling the car. He also said it took the truck "a second to get started" as it began to cross the intersection.
The tow truck driver said he did not see the cyclist when he was waved into the intersection and said he was mostly focused on the directions of the police service technician.
The accident was called in at 3:05 p.m. Kotsegarov and the second- and third-place finishers crossed the finish line at 3:27, and the Chattanooga police officer who wrote the incident report arrived to the scene of the wreck at 3:30.
Close to 2,500 athletes competed in the event, which otherwise seemed to go smoothly.
Chattanooga rose to Ironman prominence in 2014 when its inaugural event received a 97 percent approval rating from competitors, second worldwide only to Australia.
The biggest bruise on that race came on the event's bike path along West Cove Road in Walker County, Ga., where someone spread oil and tacks on the pavement.
Police increased patrols in that area during this year's event, according to newspaper records.
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.