Latvian team withdraws after tragic accident

  • 2006-01-18
  • From wire reports

SPEED DEMON: Vinters finished the Dakar rally in 10th place, bringing Riga some good news after a sobering weekend.

RIGA - After a tragic accident in which a 10-year-old boy was killed, Latvian team Maris Saukans and Andris Dambis withdrew from the popular Dakar rally on Jan. 13.
The two competitors were unaware that the young spectator had died, said Riga Rally Team spokesman Ivars Jakobsons, and only learned of the tragic news after finishing the stage.
During the 13th stage of the rally, which ran from Labe in Guinea to Tambacounda in Senegal, the Latvians' OSCar vehicle hit a boy who had come to watch the race together with his family.

The accident occurred as the boy was crossing the road, just outside the Guinean village of Kourahoye. The child received immediate attention from rally medical staff, but died shortly afterward while being transferred to a Labe hospital by helicopter.

After the accident, medics erroneously told the Latvian drivers that the boy had only broken a leg, urging them to continue the race, Jakobsons stressed.

The team learned about the victim's death only after they had completed the 13th stage of the rally.

Despite a statement from the rally commissioner that the boy himself was to blame for the accident, both Saukans and Dambis decided to withdraw from the race.

"The moral shock was too great to continue the race and forget what happened," said Jakobsons.

Saukans/Dambis were in 34th place and 14th overall at the time. The team was 15 hours and 11 minutes behind French leaders Alphand/Picard.

Days later, grief gave way to quiet celebration as Latvia's Janis Vinters took 10th place overall in the Dakar motorcycle rally.

On Jan. 14, Vinters finished Dakar's final stage in fourth place, which resulted in his overall 10th place finish. The rally covered a total of 9,043 kilometers, which the Latvian completed in 63 hours 30 minutes and 31 seconds. Spanish driver Mark Coma won the rally, finishing seven hours 53 minutes and 14 seconds ahead of Vinters.

"I'm more than satisfied. The mechanics did a good job and there was no trouble with my motor. Many had navigation problems during the rally. I was lucky I was able to overcome this obstacle, which brought me into fourth place," Vinters wrote on his homepage.