Jim Morgan of Saranac Lake, N.Y., the United States' top bobsled racer, was killed today in a bloody crash at the world four-man bobsled championships.
The death of Morgan, 32, the driver of the No. 1 U.S. team, overshadowed the two-day, four-heat competition.
Morgan's throat was cut and his jaw and neck fractured when his sled overturned at the final banked curve of the Olympic track of Cortina. His head his the icy walls repeatedly.
He was pronounced dead on arrival after being rushed by ambulance to Codevilla Hospital in this Italian winter resort.
The official medical bulletin issued by the hospital said Morgan suffered a fracture of the cervix, or lower front portion connecting the head and the trunk.
The U.S. team, which included Jeff Jost of Burke, N.Y., Paul White of brakeman Randy Bielski of Towson, Md., overturned just before the final straightaway. It was the same place the No. 2 U.S. sled spilled in Saturday's first run, forcing it to be withdrawn.
The No. 1 U.S. team was dragged about 50 meters, at high speed, as the sled kept running on its right side and Morgan's helmet bumped against the side wall.
"The leather lace of the helmet cut the throat as Morgan's head was pushed backward while hitting the wall," a doctor at Codeville Hospital said, adding that the exact cause of death would have to await an autopsy.
Bielski, whose neck was bruised in the accident, is the son of Dick Bielski, former Washington Redskin assistant coach. He stayed in the overturned sled, to assit Morgan, while a doctor of the Soviet team attempted first aid.
Bielski broke into tears as Morgan, a car salesman, was taken away on a stretcher, leaving a pool of blood on the icy course.
"You just don't get killed in an accident like this," he said. "Jim was unlucky, the run was almost over when we felt the sled was overturning and bumps started."
"I feared he was dead as soon as I saw injuries on the jaw and throat," said Mike Hallrock, an official of the U.S. team. "We all rushed to the hospital to give blood. There was no need."
White and Jost, who suffered slight bruises, walked away as reporters tried to approach them. "We don't want to talk now," Jost said.
Morgan's death did not stop the competition, which was dominated throughout by Bernhard Germeshausen in the East German No. 1 sled.
Germeshausen, also a track and field performer, clocked a winning total of 4 minutes 50.90 seconds in four heats, 2.22 seconds faster than Switzerland's No. 2 sled. Driven by Hans Hiltebrand, the Swiss sled won the silver by scoring the second-best time in the fourth heat.
The Swiss quartet improved three places from the previous day, edging the Swiss No. 1, led by three-time world champion Eric Schaerer, who finished third in 4:53.76.
White, who hurt his right elbow and right leg in the accident, said he will need a lot of time "to forget the terrible thing that happened."
"The U.S. No. 2 sled made the same mistake at the same point Saturday but they suffered only bruises." said Luciano De Paolis, the former Italian bobsledder who became coach of the U.S. team. "Jim was a good, experienced driver. We all cried when we heard he was dead."
Morgan, whose father and brothers formerly competed in bobsleds and luge, had resumed racing in the world championships at Cervinia, Italy, in 1975 after a two-year retirement.
He started in the sport in 1967 and was a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic bobsled team.
Hallrock said the team did not plan to take any action against the organizers "because we are satisfied that it was not their fault."
He added, "Jim had said the Cortina track was the best one he had ever driven. We also think that his family will not demand any action."
John Morgan, who was in Cortina as an ABC television commentator, avoided reporters but let it be known through team members that he considered his brother's death a part of the risks of bobsledding.
Jim Morgan was married and had no children.
"We plan to fly home Tuesday and we hope to take Jim's body with us," Hallrock said. "But it all depends on how we handle the red tape, including the autopsy. We came here together, and we will leave together."