Woman killed after van hits runners at Grandfather Mountain, officials say

LINVILLE, N.C. — A van plowed into a crowd of runners Thursday night at the start of The Bear race in Linville, troopers with the Highway Patrol said.

A runner, later identified as 72-year-old Julie Holderness, of Winston-Salem, died, troopers said. Three other runners were seriously hurt. Their identities have not been released.

The event for runners and joggers is part of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Avery County.

It happened at about 6:50 p.m. on N.C. Highway 105 (Linville Avenue) near Blowing Rock Highway. Linville Avenue was closed down after the incident.

As people gathered, a van tried to leave from a parked position and accelerated into the crowd. The driver of the van was identified as James Russell Deni, 80, of Boone, according to the highway patrol news release.

A runner told Channel 9 what he saw that night.

“About 10 minutes before the start of the race, I was crossing the street to get ready to go and a vehicle started moving forward through the crowd,” runner Cory Wilkinson said Thursday night. “I heard screams and unfortunately, that vehicle struck a number of people.”

Troopers said they don’t know what caused the van to suddenly accelerate and strike the runners before hitting a Gator 4x4 vehicle at the event.

“(The driver) wasn’t trying to hurt anybody,” he said. “Something went wrong. No one really knows what happened at his point.”

The 5-mile race that stretches from downtown Linville to the Mile High Swinging Bridge atop Grandfather Mountain was canceled.

About 900 people were signed up for the race.

Runner Carolyn Brice traveled from Wilmington to participate.

“I was crossing back to go to the start line when it happened. I just heard a bunch of screaming and saw people running and saw the van coming through the people and coming to a stop,” Brice said after she left the event. “This is an event you want to do and have fun at. You don’t want to go and have someone get hurt or injured or killed. So my thoughts and prayers are with those families.”

Organizers sent Channel 9 a statement Thursday night.

“On behalf of myself and the entire Grandfather Mountain Highland Games organization and family, we are deeply saddened by tonight’s devastating event and extend our condolences to those affected,” Grandfather Mountain Highland Games President Steve Quillin said.

The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games activities set for Friday through Sunday will go on as planned.

No further information has been released in the ongoing investigation.

Return to this story for updates.

(Watch below: Highland Games kick off at Grandfather Mountain this weekend)

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