A member of a men’s chorus group unintentionally drove a pick-up truck into fellow chorists at the start of a Pride parade in South Florida on Saturday, killing one member of the group and seriously injuring another, the group’s director has said, correcting initial speculation that it was a hate crime directed at the gay community.
The incident happened at the start of the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade and festival, an LGBTQ celebration in a town near Fort Lauderdale.
The white pick-up truck was lined up with other floats for the parade when it accelerated and ran into pedestrians before crashing into a plant nursery, Local 10 News said.
Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Paul Rolli and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said on Sunday the early investigation shows it was an accident.
The 77-year-old driver was taken into custody, but police said no charges have been filed and the investigation is continuing.
“The early investigation now indicates it looks like it was a tragic accident, but nobody’s saying finally what it is,” Rolli told The Associated Press news agency in a phone interview.
The driver and the victims were a part of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus family, a 25-member group of mostly older men.
“Our fellow Chorus members were those injured and the driver is also a part of the Chorus family. To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” President Justin Knight said in a statement on Sunday, calling it “an unfortunate accident”.
Rolli was on the float in front of the chorus truck along with Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and other city officials at a staging area where the floats were being readied.
Trantalis said the driver of a pick-up truck suddenly accelerated when he was told he was next in the parade, crashing into the victims. The driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into a fence on the other side of the street, police said.
“People were really distraught and some people were crying,” said Rolli, who explained that the crash happened in an area where the floats were lining up, so there were not as many parade-goers around.
Fort Lauderdale Police said no arrests have been made and that they are conducting a thorough investigation with the FBI, noting in a statement they are “considering and evaluating all possibilities”.
Trantalis, who is Fort Lauderdale’s first openly gay mayor, initially told reporters the act was deliberate, adding to the confusion Saturday night.
“It terrorised me and all around me … I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he said in a Twitter statement on Sunday.
“As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control.”
Wilton Manors is a tight-knit community near Fort Lauderdale. Photos and video from the scene showed Democratic US Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz in tears while in a convertible at the parade.
In a statement Saturday night, Wasserman Schultz said she was safe but “deeply shaken and devastated that a life was lost”.
“I am so heartbroken by what took place at this celebration,” she said. “May the memory of the life lost be for a blessing.”
June is Pride Month, commemorating a June 1969 uprising that followed a police raid targeting gay patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York. It was a catalyst for the gay rights movement.