By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — The owner of Anderson Speedway says he and track officials will be more vigilant after an alleged drunken race driver crashed into another car after being flagged out of a race last weekend.
Speedway president Rick Dawson said his track has strict policies in place concerning alcohol and drug abuse, and almost every driver abides by them.
"But there will be people who fall through the cracks. We can't test everyone," Dawson said.
Dawson also said the incident Saturday night was like nothing he had experienced in years of track ownership.
Tommy Grant Lathan, 49, of Anderson, was arrested Sunday morning and charged with one count of operating while intoxicated, one count of criminal recklessness and one count of intimidation.
According to Dawson and police reports, Lathan had been black-flagged and forced out of a figure-eight race. Dawson said track officials noticed almost immediately that Lathan was driving erratically and flagged him off the track.
According to Dawson, the races Saturday were sanctioned events so there was an extra group of outside officials who helped identify the odd behavior and attributed it to Lathan.
On about the 60th lap, about two-thirds of the way through the race, Lathan drove his car back onto the track from the pit area and attempted to re-enter the race. Track officials again black-flagged him and directed him to a parking area. Then without apparent warning, Lathan's car crossed over and crashed into another race car.
Neither driver was hurt, but Dawson immediately suspected Lathan of being intoxicated, and police were contacted.
"It's no different than people who get picked up by police for drunk driving every day: they think they can get away with it," Dawson said. "I can tell you, without question, he was impaired by some kind of substance."
Police are still working to determine if and how Lathan was intoxicated, though preliminary reports indicate alcohol as the likeliest possibility. According to Anderson Police Department spokesman Joel Sandefur, officers smelled alcohol on Lathan's breath after the race and spoke to several witnesses who claimed Lathan had been drinking alcoholic beverages between races.
Early on Sunday, Anderson police also obtained a warrant to take a blood sample from Lathan. Sandefur said after talking to witnesses they believed a sample was necessary and believed they had enough evidence to allow for one.
The sample is to be tested at a lab for to determine what Lathan had in his system Saturday night. Sandefur said the results won't be back for a couple of weeks.
Dawson said he had never seen Lathan at the track before the incident. He said Lathan arrived late and didn't practice or qualify for any races.
"And that's not uncommon. We have a lot of first-timers," he said.
Dawson said he's pleased that the track's safety procedures work. Lathan was quickly removed and should not have been able to return.
"But there's no way to anticipate that he would've done that," he said.
Dawson said he's now turning his attention to this Saturday's races, UAW Paint the Night Pink season championships. The event is one of the biggest nights of the season, he said, and there will be a special emphasis on safety.
"We can't be responsible for what people to do themselves and what they do to others, but we can do our best to identify any possible dangers before they happen," he said.
Attempts to reach Lathan on Friday were unsuccessful although someone who answered a call placed to his cellphone said Lathan recently left Anderson to "get out of town for a while."
Lathan entered a plea of not guilty to the charges. His next court date has been set for Dec. 6 in Anderson City Court.
Like Jack Molitor on Facebook and follow him @aggiejack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.