| Arjun Atwal
Washington, March 11: Arjun Atwal, the first Indian golfer to become a member of America’s celebrated PGA Tour, could face criminal charges in a fatal car crash in Florida, Kim Miller, spokeswoman for the Florida Highway Patrol, said last night.
Miller briefed reporters about possible charges against 33-year-old Atwal following an accident which killed John Park, believed to be a friend of the Indian golfer.
The two men were racing against each other in two cars at around 160 km per hour along a stretch of Florida’s County Road 535 near Windermere in Orange County, according to accounts of the accidents on local TV stations.
Car racing along winding roads is a fatal attraction for America’s youth and is a cause of deadly car crashes across the country. But the Florida Highway Patrol’s spokeswoman was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel this morning as having been surprised that Atwal and Park, 48, were drawn to this youthful weakness.
“What they were doing, whether or not one was mad —we don’t know yet — they were both old enough to know better,” the spokeswoman said.
Park was driving a 2006 model Mercedes convertible, when he lost control at high speed on a bend and hit a tree. His speed was such that the car got crushed and its axle hit the upper branches of the tree.
Atwal also lost control of his car — a 2006 model BMW — and went off the road onto its shoulder, but he was not injured.
Reporters reached Atwal’s wife at their exclusive Windermere home, but she would not answer questions and the golfer would not take calls from journalists or return them.
Atwal’s and Park’s vehicles did not hit each other, but Miller said the authorities had witnesses who said the two cars were racing against each other along the winding roads not far from posh residential areas.
The speed limit in Florida is generally 88 km per hour. Some roads allow a maximum speed of 104 to 112 km per hour. It could not immediately be verified what the speed limit is on the Winter Garden-Vineland Road, where yesterday’s accident took place. If the maximum speed there was 88 km, it would make Atwal guilty of driving at nearly double that limit.
Florida residents familiar with Orange County said the spot of County Road 535, where the accident took place, had a poor record of speeding. But Miller said there have been no recent complaints of car racing in the area.
The latest trouble for Atwal comes in the wake of a difficult 2006. He started the year well, but was pushed back in earnings and performance because of a back and hip injury.
Although Atwal was the first player on the Asian PGA to earn in excess of $1 million in 2003, official PGA statistics listed his earning so far this year at only $25,346. He fell out of the top 125 in 2006, but was hoping to rebound having recovered from his injury.