By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - A car driven by an elderly man who may have lost consciousness plowed through a small-town parade of hiking enthusiasts in southwestern Virginia on Saturday, injuring dozens of people, nine seriously enough to be sent to hospitals, authorities said.
The incident occurred in the Appalachian town of Damascus at the start of the annual Trail Days festival, as the main street was filled with hikers making their way from one end of town to a park at the other, volunteer fire department chief Ben Sanders told Reuters.
Sanders said investigators were uncertain what caused the collision between the automobile and the parade, but it appeared that the elderly man behind the wheel "passed out or had some medical issue, and he ran through the crowd with his car."
None of the injuries was believed to be life-threatening, Sanders added.
He said the motorist told authorities afterward he did not remember what had happened.
The director of emergency management for Washington County, Virginia, L.V. Pokey Harris, said 50 to 60 people in the parade were hurt, the majority of them suffering superficial injuries. Four victims were flown to hospitals by helicopter, and five others were transported by ambulance, she said.
Steve Webb, who helps run a backpacking and outfitters store in town, said a number of hikers he spoke with afterward told him they saw bystanders lifting the runaway car off a person who had been dragged under the vehicle.
Webb said amateur video footage he saw of the accident showed "the car coming up behind the hikers and running through them," adding that the automobile in question appeared to have pulled around an ambulance before plowing into the crowd.
The annual Trail Days festival draws thousands of tourists to Damascus for an event celebrating the town's proximity to four scenic trails that converge there - the Appalachian Trail, U.S. Bicycle Route 76, the Iron Mountain Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail.
(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney)