Clarksville Police survey the trailer where five people were found dead Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011 in Clarksville, Tenn., at the Clarksville Speedway. The deaths brought an abrupt halt to the celebration of the state’s largest toy run for needy children, which was hosted Saturday at the speedway by Bikers Who Care. (AP Photo/The Leaf-Chronicle, Luke Thomspson)
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A community of bikers drawn together for charity was reeling Monday after five people died while camping at a Tennessee festival that the group stages to raise money for needy children.
An organizer of the Bikers Who Care event, Bill Langford, said the victims were overcome when fumes from a generator leaked into their rented camper. The married couple and three friends were found dead Sunday inside the vehicle. Police later detected dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the camper.
Only a few people were left at the Clarksville Speedway on Monday, loading up motorcycles and packing up campsites. Ron Keele of Cunningham, Tenn., said he had belonged to the group for more than 12 years and knew the victims, who he described as younger and newer members of the 200-member motorcycle club.
“It broke my heart,” Keele said Monday, tears welling up in his eyes.
Police are investigating but don’t suspect foul play. They said it will be up to a medical examiner to determine if the cause of death was carbon monoxide, an odorless toxic gas emitted by combustion engines like those in generators.
The camper where the victims were staying was rented from nearby Fort Campbell, Ky., post spokesman Rick Rzepka said.
Keele said many of the trailers for the event are rented from Fort Campbell and as many as two-thirds of their members are veterans.
Langford said it appeared that a small storage hatch on the RV did not close properly, allowing fumes from the generator to leak inside the vehicle.
The gases were so bad in the camper that the bikers who found the bodies were taken to a hospital after feeling dizzy and light-headed, Langford said.
Clarksville police said carbon monoxide readings inside the trailer were as high as 438 parts per million. Permissible limits for carbon monoxide are 35 ppm averaged over eight hours with a 200 ppm ceiling limit, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Clarksville police spokesman Jim Knoll identified the dead as 38-year-old James Franklin Wall II; 39-year-old Timothy Bryan Stone; 32-year-old Allison Elizabeth Bagwell-Wyatt; and a married couple, Jonathan Michael Over and Kathryn Elizabeth Over, both 27. All were from Clarksville.
Keele said Wall had invited Stone to join the group. Langford said the Overs were parents of 8-month-old twins. He was a truck driver and she was a teacher at a local school.
Two of the men who died worked security into the early morning hours during festivities that included motorcycle drag races, live music and bikini and tattoo contests. The charity’s website said there was free beer.
Langford said the event had been staged for 30 years without serious incident.
Member Barry Williams was packing up Monday after this year’s event and said he had attended many in the past and knew those who died.
“It was devastating. They are like family,” Williams said.
At West Creek Middle School, where Kathryn Over was a physical education and health teacher, counselors were brought in Monday to help students deal with the tragedy.
“They are reflecting on her and the positive person that she was,” said principal Bryan Feldman, adding that Over was in her fourth year of teaching at the school and always helped with school functions, like assemblies.
“I don’t know that it has hit all of us yet.”
Langford said the bikers collect toys for needy children and raised funds for Camp Rainbow, a summer camp for seriously ill children at Land Between the Lakes recreation area on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. They also contribute to the Buddy Ball sports league for children with mental and physical disabilities.
The cornerstone of the event was a toy run, where the bikers lined up at the speedway and rode through town. Organizers said they gathered four truckloads of toys.
According to state and federal filings, the group raised $255,406 and spent $120,194 on events in 2010. Bikers Who Care also gave away $103,083, including $55,000 to Camp Rainbow and $10,000 to the Buddy Ball sports league for children with mental and physical disabilities.
Keele said the charity is careful about who they allowed in their group. “We try to find people who want to make this a great family,” he said.
Associated Press writers Erik Schelzig in Clarksville and Rebecca Yonker in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.