Community responds to tragedy by giving time, money and support to Britten Olinger
With rain almost a certainty on March 7, Owen High track and field coach Joe Hyder was working diligently to prepare Montreat College’s Pulliam Stadium for a track meet later that day.
The high school meet was one of two that day in which all proceeds were to be donated to aid the recovery of Montreat College track and field head coach Britten Olinger, critically injured in a multi-vehicle accident Feb. 27.
Owen’s meet, held on Montreat's home track, was one of several efforts in the area aimed at supporting the Montreat coach.
The college hosted a blood drive for Olinger on March 3. Lookout Brewing Co. in Black Mountain hosted a fundraiser March 10. As of March 9, a GoFundMe page set up by Olinger's sister had raised $87,206 toward its $150,000 goal. The Native Kitchen and Social Pub in Swannanoa announced plans to donate all its March 25 proceeds to Olinger’s family.
Montreat College created the Britten Strong Race to Recovery 5K to be held April 6, an event it plans to hold annually (register at https://runsignup.com/Race/NC/BlackMountain/MontreatCollegeCharacterDash).
Owen hosted Hendersonville, Avery, McDowell, Mitchell during the March 7 track meet, a meet Hyder was prepared to postpone or cancel after the Feb. 27 downtown Black Mountain collision that severed Olinger's spinal cord and left him with several other serious injuries.
“I was surprised when (Montreat College athletic director Jose Larios) told me we should go through with the meet,” Hyder said. “He said that Britten wouldn’t want the meet to be called off." The Montreat track team's work during the meet would allow its members to focus on something else for awhile, Hyder said Larios told him.
Hyder was impressed by the number of high school athletes who showed up at the meet wearing ribbons in Montreat College's colors, navy blue and gold.
Hyder, who has coached track and field and cross country at Owen for three decades, met Olinger when Olinger moved to town last year from his coaching job at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Olinger and Jason Lewkowicz, Montreat's cross country head coach, helped out with Owen's cross country meets.
It was important to hold the meet in support of Olinger, according to Hyder.
“Pam Bolton (head coach of Hendersonville High School) told me as long as I wasn’t cancelling the meet they were coming, specifically to show her support for Coach Olinger,” Hyder said. North Henderson High School, coached by Heang Uy, was scheduled to open its track and field season with a meet at home on March 7 as well, but Uy was able to move it to March 9.
“I read about this in the paper, and my heart went out to (Olinger) and his family,” Uy said. “He’s someone who’s dedicated his life to a sport I love.”
Uy wanted to find a way to help Olinger.
“The track community is really tight,” Uy said. “When one of our own is hurt, it impacts a lot of us.”
The track meets represented a fraction of the community’s response to the tragedy.
“Native Kitchen and Social Pub feels very strongly about being a place where people can gather in support of their community," the restaurant's ownership said in a statement. "When a tragedy happens so close to home, we feel it is imperative that we do what we can to support those involved. We are grateful for the opportunity to be able to bring the community together and give everyone a chance to help the Olinger family.”
The other driver involved in the Feb. 27 collision was Kyle Carney, a 30-year-old Winston-Salem man who arrest warrants filed March 9 allege was driving at 120 mph.
Carney was charged with speeding, reckless driving to endanger and driving to endanger. His bond was set at $10,000 unsecured.
Carney's 2015 Nissan Altima struck Olinger's car at the intersection of State Street and N.C. 9. The collision forced the cars to hit three other cars. Debris shattered windows at Town Hardware & General Store. Several people were treated for minor injuries at the scene.
A report filed by the N.C. Highway Patrol indicates that Carney was involved in a collision on Interstate 40 westbound just outside of Old Fort as he approached Black Mountain.
The narrative of the report states that Carney's car attempted to cross two lanes of traffic, from the far right lane to the left. The Altima, registered to Carney, sideswiped a vehicle in the far left lane. The driver of that vehicle pulled over while Carney's car continued west.