Safety concerns at Country USA

TOWN OF NEKIMI – An accident Tuesday night by the Country USA grounds near Oshkosh has some questioning if the event was prepared for the large crowd.

“We need to keep people safe,” said Officer Joe Nichols of the Oshkosh Police Department. “And that’s something that we’re looking at in regards to was enough done?”

A 23-year-old man from Wautoma is fighting for his life after he was hit by a truck while walking to the music festival. Two other pedestrians were treated and released after they were also hurt in the crash.

Police say alcohol was not a factor, but that a lack of parking was.

The accident happened just after 10 p.m. on South Washburn St. near South Waukau Ave. That is just north of the Country USA grounds. The pedestrians and the truck were all heading south.

Police say after Tuesday night’s accident, they closed Washburn to cars. They say they’re prepared to do that again if pedestrian traffic picks up Wednesday night or later in the week.

Nichols estimates a crowd of up to 4,000 walked to Country USA Tuesday afternoon and evening. Officials are investigating how a pickup truck hit three people in the area.

“They’re determining right now if the pedestrians walked in the roadway or if the truck moved over,” said Nichols. “We’re not sure yet.”

The crash happened in an area with only one lane of traffic heading south. There is also just a few feet of shoulder between the edge of the roadway and a ditch.

Investigators say the 17-year-old driver of the truck is cooperating.

They also say pedestrian traffic is up because more people have to park off-site this year, due to mud at the Country USA grounds.

Jim Bragg sells tickets nearby and says pedestrian traffic Tuesday night was the highest he has ever seen.

“I’ve been here every year they’ve had this event here, and this was by far the worst traffic problem that they’ve had as far as places to park,” said Bragg.

One country music fan who saw the aftermath of the crash said he thought twice about walking back Wednesday.

“You’re thinking that, oh it could happen to me or it could have been me that was in the vehicle,” said Kyle Gabsch of Cleveland. “It’s just stuff that happens, you really don’t want that to happen.”

Gabsch doesn’t think the event was ready for the crowd.

“I would have thought they would have been, but I guess not this year,” he said.

Country USA promoter Dan Liebhauser says Tuesday’s crowd was a record 42,000 people.

“We are obviously saddened at any injury,” said Liebhauser.

He says people should wait for shuttle buses to take them from off-site parking to the event, and more buses will be operating the rest of the week.

“We’ll make the same statement that we’ve been making for several years now, and that is, do not walk on Washburn,” said Liebhauser. “It is unsafe.”

He says even though it may not seem like it, waiting for a shuttle is actually faster than walking.

Police know some people will walk anyway, but they don’t plan to add any extra officers.

“We’ve got our set schedule,” said Nichols. “I do believe that we had enough officers out last night. We patrol up and down South Washburn and try to make sure everybody stays to the side of the road.”

Liebhauser says maintenance crews are working to get more parking open at the site for later this week.

People wanting up-to-date information on where to park off-site can check the Country USA Facebook page or listen to 100.3 FM radio.

As of the latest report from Oshkosh police, the 23-year-old man who was hurt in the crash was listed in critical condition at UW-Madison Hospital.

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