Driver defends the King

TARINA WHITE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

While her husband prepares to undergo surgery, Cindy Helmig spoke on his behalf yesterday to defend the chuckwagon driver blamed for the accident that sent him to hospital.

Tyler Helmig, who injured his hip and elbow during the crash at the Stampede Rangeland Derby, believes the collision was solely caused by driver Ray Mitsuing and not Kelly Sutherland, said Cindy.

"From what I've seen, I think they're making him the scapegoat," she said about veteran driver Sutherland, known in racing circles as the King.

"After have watched the judges' tapes of the entire race, it is very clear that the accident was solely caused by Ray Mitsuing and in no way did the actions of Kelly Sutherland on the track that evening contribute to this very unfortunate accident."

Stampede officials declared Sunday it was Sutherland's reckless actions that caused the spectacular crash that claimed the lives of three horses and sent Helmig to hospital.

Sutherland, from Grande Prairie, was suspended from the final evening of the chuckwagon races.

Saturday's wreck saw Helmig's chuckwagon plow into Gary Gorst's team, which had crashed between the first and second turn during the seventh heat.

Helmig was sent flying onto the track, suffering hip and arm injuries. One horse died on the track and a second had to be euthanized a short time later. A third horse also was put down.

Officials said Sutherland was too aggressive as he entered the first turn, pushing Mitsuing's wagon into Gorst's team, which tumbled, causing the fatal incident.

Mitsuing lashed back yesterday at the Helmig's claim he was at fault.

"The Stampede board has made a decision and found out who was the guilty person," he said about Sutherland. "I know damn well it wasn't my fault."

Gorst also spoke out yesterday in defence of the Stampede's decision.

Yet Sutherland said the Stampede's decision is the product of public pressure and he called his suspension unfair.

Cindy said her husband requires a hip replacement and elbow surgery.

Stampede president George Brookman said there will be a review of the rules, which is done every year.


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