Friend: Woman killed in handcar accident was 'bigger than life'

WILKESON, Wash. -- The Pierce County Medical Examiner's office has identified 47-year-old Charity Lisherness of Aberdeen as the woman who died Saturday in a freak accident while racing a railroad handcar in Wilkeson.

Some are now calling for better safety for the racers who power the hand car by pumping up and down on a lever.

Race organizers say Lisherness was on-board with her husband Dennis and two other family members when she fell backwards onto the track near the finish line.

Witnesses say the 1,000 pound handcar and its center gear rolled over the front of her, causing severe injuries to body and head. The impact caused the hand car to derail. Lisherness was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center, where she died later in the day.

"People weren't seeing how horrific it was. From my understanding, it was quite horrific to look at," said Gene Vos, who was a spectator and spoke with grieving family membership who set up a memorial at the spot of the accident on Monday.

He estimates the car was going about 15 to 20 miles an hour. The accident happened about 400 feet from the spectators at the finish line. Vos says the crowd knew something had gone wrong but wasn't sure of the severity until all racing stopped and they saw Lisherness being airlift out of the area.

"She's just bigger than life, a great personality," said Lisherness' boss and family friend Robert Haase.

Lisherness worked as Haase's assistant and traveled with him as he conducted workshops for massage therapists and chiropractors.

He describe Lisherness as a ultra-marathoner and obstacle course competitor who never stepped down from an athletic challenge. He said she was the type of woman who walked instead of driving and took the stairs instead of using an elevator.

"She's the daughter of a preacher," said Haase. "She loves not just sharing her faith but living her faith. She lives it in everything that she does, her joy of life was huge was very evident in all that she said and all that she did."

Her husband Dennis says it's too soon to talk about the accident and the loss of his wife. The couple have a 21-year-old daughter named Lunden.

The event is organized every year by the Wilkeson Booster Club. Hand car racing became a part of the annual Wilkeson Days festival 40 years ago and organizers say they can't recall any serious accidents that have taken place.

The hand cars are capable of traveling up to speeds of 50 miles an hour and there's no railing to keep competitors on the car.

"That bothers me, and I don't want to see it happen again," said Vos. "There's got to be something you can put around that, some sort of a little hand rail."

An unidentified board member of the booster club said organizers are heartbroken and deeply saddened by the accident and have been told by the victim's family members to keep the event going.

The member also acknowledges that safety changes most likely will be made prior to next year's races, but did not identify what those changes could be.
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