Report: Jason Leffler may have survived fatal wreck with different headrest

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Several safety experts believe Jason Leffler’s chance of survival from last week’s fatal crash may have been enhanced if he used a full containment headrest similar to those mandated by NASCAR.

Citing longtime safety pioneer Bill Simpson and race car seat maker and former two-time Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie, ESPN.com reported that both men believe a 180-degree surround-style headrest may have saved Leffler’s life.

Leffler, 37, whose funeral service was this past Wednesday in Cornelius, N.C., was killed in a winged sprint car crash at Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway on June 12. His car went out of control, hit a retaining wall and flipped over several times.

New Jersey state police are still investigating the cause of the wreck, but it’s believed a part in the front end of Leffler’s race car broke.

Even though Leffler was wearing a protective helmet and a head and neck restraint device to protect against front impacts, an autopsy performed on Leffler’s body by medical examiner Dr. Fredric Hellman found that the cause of death was from a blunt-force neck injury caused by a whipping motion of his head.

What Leffler did not have was a headrest that would keep his head aligned with the rest of his body in a lateral impact.

After talking with a number of witnesses, Simpson concluded, “My findings showed everything with the head and neck restraint is fine when you have a forward impact as long as it doesn’t go past 30 degrees, from one side to the other. There is no lateral protection with the head and neck restraint. Nothing.

“Your head can flop from side to side,” Simpson added. “There is nothing to stop it from doing that. That car that Leffler was driving, it did not have a 180-degree head surround like a [Sprint] Cup car has. When he crashed and landed on his side and stopped, his head kept going.”

LaJoie, who operates one of the leading seating companies in the sport, agreed: “(Leffler) wasn’t contained. That’s why we haven’t killed anyone in NASCAR, because we learned not to let the body and head move. Your head, chest and pelvis need to stay in line as close as possible.”

Alex Zanardi showing signs of interaction three months after crash

Alex Zanardi recovery
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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MILAN — Italian racing driver turned Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi has started responding to treatment with signs of interaction, more than three months after he was seriously injured in a handbike crash.

Zanardi has spent most of that time in intensive care after crashing into an oncoming truck during a relay event near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19.

“For several days now. Alex Zanardi has undergone cognitive and motor rehabilitation sessions, with the administration of visual and acoustic stimuli, to which the patient responds with momentary and initial signs of interaction,” the San Raffaele hospital in Milan said in a statement Thursday.

The hospital said that is “significant progress” but added that his condition remains serious, and that it would be “absolutely premature” to make a long-term prognosis.

Zanardi, 53, suffered serious facial and cranial trauma in the crash and was put in a medically induced coma. Doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

He was operated on several times to stabilize him and reconstruct his severely damaged face and the Milan hospital added that he recently had undergone another surgery to reconstruct his skull and would have another one in the coming weeks.

Zanardi lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.