SOUTH BEND -- An initial investigation into a deadly mud bog race over the weekend at St. Joseph County Fairgrounds has ruled out mechanical failure as a cause, police said today.
Steven DeLeeuw, 48, of West Olive, Mich., was killed Saturday night at the Summer Thunder Mud Bog event when he reportedly made a fast run with his vehicle across the mud pit and lost control and crashed.
According to police, the tires were off the ground and DeLeeuw tried to turn the car to avoid concrete barriers at the end of the track, which caused his vehicle to flip over and land on the barrier and a chain-linked fence. A video of the race shows all four of DeLeeuw's tires were off the ground at one point.
He was pronounced dead en route to the hospital, of blunt force trauma to the head and chest.
Mud bogging, or mud racing, is an off-road motorsport in which vehicles drive through a pit of mud for a set length.
South Bend Police Detective Gene Eyster said today he will continue to investigate a cause of the crash this week.
"All the emergency equipment and mechanical equipment of the vehicle were functional and not damaged before the crash," he said.
Eyster added DeLeeuw's vehicle was a mix between a dune buggy and a dragster. Eyster said the vehicle got up to 72 mph in 1.87 seconds down the 100-foot bog pit. DeLeeuw had traveled more than 150 feet -- past the shutdown point -- by the time he hit the fence.
Eyster said the goal of a mud race is usually to see how far vehicles can go before they are overcome by the mud. DeLeeuw's vehicle was built primarily for sand and doesn't sink as easily in mud, and is much faster than many of the other vehicles, he said.
"It is unique," Eyster said of the vehicle. "He was solicited to come to this event because of the speed that it obtains. He was invited for the crowd."
The event had two competitions, one for large vehicles and another for the smaller, faster vehicles, similar to the one DeLeeuw was driving.
Eyster added that police are not looking at any criminal culpability in the case.
"We're looking at its cause and prevention," he said. "We're looking to see if there's something we can determine to help guide any future events and give closure to the family."
DeLeeuw was wearing a helmet, harness and fire suit, and the car had a roll cage, police said.
As of late this afternoon, Eyster had not been able to talk to race organizers.
DeLeeuw was the first driver of the night in what was the first mud bog event ever at the fairgrounds. His death was not announced to the crowd.
"He had probably the most powerful rig that was out there," spectator Tyler Sachman told WSBT. "He took off, built up a lot of speed going through the mud and, apparently, when he tried slowing down, he got sideways, started barrel rolling, ran out of space, ran over the concrete blocks that were at the end and went over into a fence."
In a letter to WSBT, DeLeeuw's son, 15-year-old Luke DeLeeuw, called his father "a race, a brother, an uncle, and a father any child would be proud to have."
"From my earliest days, I remember going to races to watch him. He worked hard, played hard, and loves life. ... He died doing what he loved."