Facebook Twitter

Victims still suffer from car rampage

Memories, injuries linger from Reno’s Thanksgiving in ’80

SHARE Victims still suffer from car rampage

RENO, Nev. (AP) — When Bob Haun recalls how close he came to being killed 25 years ago in downtown Reno on that deadly Thanksgiving Day, the Idaho rancher remembers first hearing a scream.

"I didn't know if it was some girl hollering for the fun of it," Haun said.

It wasn't.

Bearing down on Bob Haun and his wife Shirley was a murderer. Priscilla Ford, a mentally ill woman who sometimes claimed to be Christ, was driving a 1974 blue Lincoln Continental through the crowd on a busy North Virginia Street sidewalk, mowing down everything in her path.

"If I'd turned around right then, I probably could have gotten out of the way," Bob Haun said. "But I didn't."

The Hauns, looking for a place to have dinner about 3 p.m. on Nov. 27, 1980, were struck by Ford, who aimed her car at the holiday throng, trying to kill or injure as many people as she could.

"Shirley was hung up between the headlight and radiator," Bob Haun said. "Her leg was dragging underneath."

Bodies were everywhere. Victims screamed.

"I crawled on my hands and knees down to the corner where (Shirley) was at," said Bob Haun, who was badly hurt. "I thought she was dead. She had a God-awful gash on her head. I crawled up to where she was at and she opened her eyes."

Bob Haun didn't know it, but he was bleeding internally. He was taken to Washoe Medical Center in critical condition.

"They told a nurse to stay there with me," Bob Haun said. "They said, 'Keep him awake because he's dying.' I didn't know what to think."

Neither did Richard Kirkland.

"I got to the corner of Second and Virginia streets," said Kirkland, a retired Washoe County sheriff's officer, who, as a Reno police lieutenant, was one of the first officers on the scene. "I see the carnage. People running everywhere. I could see the bodies."

Minutes earlier, people packed the sidewalk when Ford, driving north, suddenly steered the Lincoln toward the crowd in front of the Club Cal Neva and kept going.

"We heard a big noise," said Shirley Haun, who was farther up the street. "It was a big yellow light coming toward us."

Despite a plea of insanity, Ford was convicted in 1982 of killing six and injuring 23 people in the rampage. She was sentenced to death and spent the rest of her life in prison awaiting execution. Ford died in January in the Southern Nevada Women's Correctional Center in Las Vegas. She was 75.

"I've never seen an incident like that," said Kirkland, who spent almost 40 years in law enforcement. "I stood there looking around. There were bodies lying the full length of (Virginia Street), from Second Street up to the railroad tracks."

Ford, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with violent tendencies, had been treated and released by seven different hospitals before coming to Reno in 1980, where she'd lived for a short time in 1973.

Bob and Shirley Haun had been in town for less than a hour, driving east on Interstate 80 to reach Reno after a trip down the Pacific Coast.

"We were on vacation," Shirley Haun said. "We had just pulled in to Reno. We were trying to find a place to eat. We were walking down the sidewalk."

Bob, 69, and Shirley Haun, 70, both retired, live on a 40-acre ranch near Emmett, Idaho, about 30 miles north of Boise. The pain of Thanksgiving Day in Reno, a quarter century ago, is still with them.

"We've felt it ever since," Shirley Haun said. "Bob just went to the doctor. He can't turn his neck like he used to. His leg still hurts him."

For others, the pain is gone. But vivid memories remain.

"I thought, 'We've been bombed. A bomb went off,"' Kirkland said. "It tore people apart and threw them all over the street. I said, 'Oh my God!"'

One of the injured was Anna Massingham of Fall Creek, Ore.

"I was hit and bounced in the air and landed on the sidewalk," she said. "My husband said (the car) came toward us. It's hard to remember what happened."

Anna Massingham and her husband, Dan, like Bob and Shirley Haun, were walking on the east side of North Virginia Street. Like the Hauns, the Massinghams were looking for a restaurant. The Massinghams were heading south, the Hauns north, toward Ford.

Dan, 66, and Anna Massingham, 60, barely saw Ford's car coming at them.

"I was trying to get out of the way," Dan Massingham said. "It was going too fast. The sun was right behind the car when it came in. You couldn't see it that good."

The Massinghams suffered relatively minor injuries.

"It hit me and knocked me down," Dan Massingham said. "I had a broken bone in my foot."

Anna Massingham hurt her knee and hip.

When Ford veered off North Virginia Street and into the sidewalk crowd, Kirkland was just getting to work as boss of the police department's Thanksgiving swing shift. Before Kirkland reached the front door, he got a call on his radio from Pam Engle, an officer walking her beat in downtown Reno.

"I hear Pam Engle screaming at the top of her voice," Kirkland said. "She's saying, 'Oh my God! Oh my God! There are bodies everywhere! Help! Help!"'

After steering her Lincoln toward the curb in front of the Club Cal Neva, where she hit Dan and Anna Massingham, Ford drove about 40 mph down the sidewalk and through the crowd.

Ford crossed Second Street and continued along the sidewalk in front of Harrah's Reno, where she hit Bob and Shirley Haun from behind.

"We figured the only thing that saved us, there was a fellow right behind us," Shirley Haun said. "It hit him and killed him before it hit us." Ford reached Commercial Row before swerving from the sidewalk back into North Virginia Street. Blocked by traffic, she was forced to stop at North Virginia and Fifth streets. Ford was arrested by Reno police at the intersection.

"In our minds, she was under the influence of something," Kirkland said. "Later, as we got her processed, it just got more bizarre."

Ford called her victims "beasts" and "pigs," saying she ran them down to call attention to the case of her daughter, who was taken into custody by Washoe County juvenile authorities in 1973.

Ford's trial lasted six months. Among the 93 witnesses who testified were Dan and Anna Massingham.

"We were going into the Cal Neva," Dan Massingham said of Thanksgiving Day 25 years ago. "In just a few seconds we would have been inside."