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Updated: Tuesday, 24 Jul 2012, 1:10 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 23 Jul 2012, 11:12 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - A 19-year-old Indianapolis woman is still hospitalized more than two weeks after suffering skull fractures in a go-kart accident.
It was July 8. Shelbi Crouch was navigating Whiteland Raceway's track, with her boyfriend following closely behind her.
Tragedy struck with a turn of the wheel. As she made a curve, her boyfriend told police he saw “her head jerk backwards violently.” The police report indicates her hair had become “wrapped around the axle and pulled so violently that it removed the scalp from her head.”
She was taken to the hospital by medical helicopter. Police found a helmet and neck brace at the scene, but it's unclear whether she was told to contain her hair. Whiteland's police report calls it an accident, concluding “no further investigation needed.”
And that's where I-Team 8's investigation begins.
It first led us to Charity Bryan.
"What are the odds that the exact same accident could happen to somebody else?" Charity asked.
That's a question I-Team 8 is also asking after learning Bryan's story.
On Nov. 11, 2005, the same thing happened to her while on a go-kart ride with a friend. She was not at Whiteland Raceway. Her long locks became entangled in the go-kart's wheel and axle.
"My scalp was hanging off," she said, showing pictures taken of her in the hospital.
The brutal force of the scalping left her paralyzed.
"I have what's called a T-4 incomplete spinal cord injury," Charity explained. "I was the unlucky one. I got paralyzed. That's my life now."
Persistent infections complicate her paralysis. She's forced to use oxygen and has been in and out of the hospital. The mother of four's life is now defined by her reach from a wheelchair.
Crouch and Bryan are not alone.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 305,000 go-karts in the mid-1990s after riders were killed when their hair became “entangled in the rotating rear axle.”
That led the American Society for Testing and Materials, an organization that sets international product standards, to release new industry standards in 2000 for go-karts ridden at public facilities.
Part of the standard calls for go-karts to have protective covers over the axles. It reads as follows: "Concession go-karts shall have protective covers or component placement for moving or heated components of the engine and drive train system, to inhibit driver or passenger from inadvertent contact with these components while seated in the intended position for operation and while properly restrained."
It's been 12 years since those standards were established, and I-Team 8 wanted to know if Indiana go-kart facilities adhere to those international industry standards. To find out, we sent out undercover go-karters on multiple rides with hidden cameras.
Our undercover team went to Whiteland Raceway where Crouch's accident happened. We found large red signs warning riders to secure their hair. Those signs were not in place when I-Team 8 first visited the track three days after the accident.
And we found the kart's axles exposed. On some karts, rear plates provided partial covering. But some karts had no plates at all, with the axles exposed from wheel to wheel.
I-Team 8's Deanna Dewberry took our questions to Whiteland Raceway owner Mike Swails. He said the difference is that his karts are racing go-karts, not concession go-karts, which are ridden by the public for a fee.
When questioned why the general public was allowed to use the karts without that protection in place, he responded: "This is racing," Swails said. "This is racing. This is not recreational."
He calls it racing, even though a sign on his premises tells members of the public that it's not a race but a ride. And any member of the public can pay a fee and drive a kart just like our undercover drivers did.
But Swails argued his facility is not a recreational facility because he also hosts professional racers and a racing school.
But on July 8 Crouch was not in a school, but was a recreational rider. When asked whether she then should have had the recommended protections, Swails said: "We do everything we can to protect them the best way we're able."
He argued he provides what his insurance company demands, and that does not include a covered rear axle as advised by industry standards.
But Swails also told I-Team 8 he didn't know the standards existed.
"They should be letting people know who are above us to tell us," he said.
Swails may not have known about industry standards because Indiana has no law that enforces them and no state agency assures your go-kart is safe and complies with current standards.
I-Team 8 has learned that while our neighbors including Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin have laws establishing state standards in go-karting, the racing capital of the world has none. Moreover, after an accident, there is no Indiana agency that investigates to ensure any possible problems are fixed.
"Cover the axles," Bryan said when we shared our findings. "Why aren't they covered? Why are they wide open so something like this can happen?"
That's a question only Indiana lawmakers can answer. In the meantime, Bryan faces a life now changed by a go-kart. She said she now hopes she lives long enough to see her kids grow up.
Officials with the CPSC said they are "seriously concerned about the situation" at Whiteland Raceway and are currently conducting an investigation. Their investigations can lead to legal action.
Without a law in Indiana, there is little way to enforce the industry's safety standards.
An example is the Indiana State Fair stage collapse. The industry had established international standards for temporary structures, but Indiana had no law and no agency to ensure structures built here comply.
The same is true with go-kart facilities that are public venues and open to the public for a fee.