Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo

Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts funeral for slain police officer

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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is more than just a race track and sporting venue. It is a vital part of the fabric of the community in this uniquely Midwestern metropolis.

Breann Leath was even more important, serving as an officer for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. The 24-year-old was investigating a domestic violence incident on April 9, when she was gunned down by an assailant. Her death has been a shock to a city already in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leath’s funeral was held Thursday at IMS, in what’s believed to be the first time it had been the backdrop for such a somber event in its 110-year history. In the past, it has held memorial services for race drivers and other members of the racing community.

Members of the IMPD and additional law enforcement agencies completely lined the historic 2.5-mile oval with their squad cars, creating a stirring visual tribute to their fallen colleague.

Leath’s family, fellow officers and community were there to mourn her loss. Officers watched a stream of the funeral on their personal devices, then stood by their cars to salute Leath as her procession completed a ceremonial lap. Under normal circumstances, the funeral would take place in a closed-door arena, but these modifications were made to help maintain social distancing and limit the number of people in one place.

Leath was remembered as a loving and devoted mother to her son, an officer with genuine dedication and commitment to the community that echoed throughout the IMPD, and for having a smile that could light up a room.

Because of the ongoing CDC restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, no public participation was possible during the funeral services, and no public visitation took place.

“While a global pandemic may keep us physically separated today, the sun rose this morning on a city that has come together as one, united in admiration for our fallen hero,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett after removing his face mask, black and striped with a thin blue line. “Here at this track and across this city, her brothers and sisters in blue stand ready to keep watch over her legacy.”

Leath, a 2014 graduate of Southport High School, was a beat officer on the city’s east side. She was previously a member of the Indiana National Guard and worked as a corrections officer at the Indiana Women’s Prison.

“Breann accomplished and gave more in her 24 years than most could ever hope to in a lifetime,” Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said at the service, his hands protected by latex gloves, “wearing not one, not two, but three uniforms, all honorably.”

Following the funeral service at IMS, Leath was laid to rest at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Community members are invited to contribute to The Breann Leath Memorial Fund via donation or by purchasing official apparel at shopIMPD.com. Memories, photos, notes, condolences or art made in her honor can also be sent to OfficerLeathLegacy@indy.gov to be compiled for her family.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”