06/09/2005 12:00AM

Starting gate worker dies in accident

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A longtime member of the starting gate crew at Penn National Race Course was killed in an accident on the track during Wednesday night's live racing program.

The worker, identified by Pennsylvania State Police as William Stewart, 46, of Elizabethtown, Pa., died from multiple traumatic injuries sustained in an accident involving the gate shortly after the start of the fourth race.

The last five races on Wednesday's program at Penn National, as well as Thursday evening's entire live racing card, were cancelled.

According to the police report, Stewart was riding on the starting gate as it was being moved after the fourth race. While on the gate, Stewart was changing numbers when, for an unknown reason, he fell to the ground and was run over by the 17-ton gate.

Stewart was air-lifted to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and pronounced dead at 10:05 p.m. Wednesday.

In a statement released by Penn National, Richie Schnaars, the track's general manager, said "In light of this tragic accident, it was an easy decision to cancel [Thursday's] races, as we all come together to mourn the loss of a cherished friend and colleague who we all came to know and love over the last 22 years.

"The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission and Pennsylvania Horsemen's and Benevolent Association support the decision to cancel [Thursday's] races and join us in expressing our condolences to the family."