CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Our Newschannel 9 team got our hands on never-before-seen video showing the moment the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival came to a screeching halt. Organizers promised fans an experience they wouldn't forget, but because of the moment captured in that video, one course worker can't even remember what happened in the crash that changed his life.
For Jeff Banker, the stands were never close enough. The seasoned course worker with thirty years of experience says the speed and adrenaline of the track, keeps him coming back. The place he found the most happiness at a race track? Hugging the edge of the course, with a flag in hand. "I was basically a safety worker, a corner worker or Corner Marshall," Jeff told us from his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
Jeff and his fellow corner guards served as an extra set of eyes for the drivers pushing the limits. "If I see something or smell something, I'm giving information to the driver via the use of flags or hand signals," Jeff explained about his duties.
But on this day in October, as a new event launched on the Scenic City's riverfront, Jeff is the one who faced danger. "That was probably 7:15 in the morning, and that's the last thing I remember. I don't remember anything after that."
The video we obtained is part of the Chattanooga police investigative file. We got our hands on it through an open records request. It shows what Jeff doesn't remember.
As Jeff works his corner with another volunteer, something goes wrong on the course in front of him. The 1969 Lola replica plows into this orange plastic barrier, sending it careening into the air, and directly into Jeff.
His wife Sammye got the phone call she'll never forget. "He said you're not going to like what I"m about to say. He told me Jeff had been injured," Sammye said. In fact, doctors later told Jeff he flat-lined twice
A different view of the video comes from a camera inside the car. It shows the car was going 54 miles per hour when it hit the plastic barrier.
What happened in just seconds meant a months- long recovery that continues today. He says he's still in therapy for two broken wrists, a broken collar bone, broken clavicle, collapsed lung, and multiple broken ribs. He continues to have trouble with his memory.
Perhaps the irony in Jeff's story, he was supposed to be at a different race that weekend. But he promised a friend he'd work the inaugural Chattanooga Motorcar Festival.
"It probably took him a good 2-3 days before he knew where he was," Sammye remembers. "It was like, when is this going to end?"
And despite the pain he says he lives with every day. Those stands that were never close enough for Jeff?
He says he's still not ready to take a seat. "If I can just get one more year in I may do that and call it done. Right now, it's extremely uncomfortable to stand up and walk."
Thirty years of experience, now in jeopardy, because of a split second crash.
Our investigation uncovered so much more about this story. Jeff's attorney says what happened here is not a tragic accident but something that could have been prevented. We've been asking questions and filing open records requests for months, most centering around this orange barrier that hit Jeff.
They are typically known as water barriers, but we discovered these barriers were empty and not weighted down the day of the festival.
We aren't finished digging into this story. On February 4th at 5 pm, you'll learn why organizers say they left them empty on purpose, the legal battle brewing over this crash, and WHO is tasked with making sure the track is safe for the second annual event this fall.