Originally created 08/13/02

Jason Priestley's spine fractured in race car crash; actor said to be improving Monday



SPARTA, Ky. -- Actor Jason Priestley was becoming more alert and should recover fully from a concussion, broken back and other injuries sustained when his race car crashed into a wall at 180 mph, doctors said Monday.

The former "Beverly Hills 90210" star, competing in the new Infiniti Pro Series, spun into the wall at Kentucky Speedway during practice Sunday.

The 32-year-old Priestley was flown to the University of Kentucky Medical Center with a spinal fracture and a head injury, as well as a broken nose and broken bones in both feet.

Priestley was in serious but stable condition Monday morning.

"Jason does not have any injury that shouldn't fully recover," Dr. Andrew Bernard, trauma surgeon at University of Kentucky hospital, said Monday.

Priestley was breathing on his own, responding to commands and becoming more and more aware of his surroundings, doctors said.

"We have no indication from any of the scans that he's had that he has any further damage to his head," Indy Racing League medical director Henry Bock said earlier. There also was no sign of paralysis, he said.

Priestley's father, Lorne Priestley, attended the news conference but declined to answer questions. "He's better so I'm better," the elder Priestley said.

Although he was initially placed on the ventilator until his condition was stabilized, Priestley was taken off the ventilator Sunday afternoon and has been breathing on his own ever since, doctors said Monday.

Bernard said the spinal fracture appeared to be stable and should not require surgery. Priestley was to be fitted with a back brace Monday.

Priestley needs a few days to recover from the concussion before having surgery on his feet, doctors said.

Priestley, a native of British Columbia, became a TV heartthrob starring with Luke Perry, Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth in the Fox network's "Beverly Hills, 90210," which ran from 1990 to 2000. He played Brandon Walsh, the Minnesota boy whose family moves to Beverly Hills and learns to adjust to life there.

In recent years, he began focusing on auto racing and was considered to be a knowledgeable and talented driver.

"He's gotten to know everybody and changed everybody's opinion of him. He's shown he's a good racer. He's been running up front," driver Ed Carpenter said.

On Saturday, he qualified his Dallara-Infiniti - similar to an Indy Racing League car but smaller and less powerful - for a start next to pole-winner A.J. Foyt IV for Sunday's 100-mile race. The Infiniti Pro Series is the IRL's developmental series.

He crashed coming out of the second turn in the final practice, apparently after driving through a patch of "oil-dry," an absorbent material that had been spread on part of the track about 10 minutes earlier to soak up oil from another car.

"He got sideways and he corrected and then shot off the track," said former Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, whose son, Arie Jr., competes with Priestley.

"He turned right into the wall, and his first impact was basically head-on," Luyendyk said. "I saw it from the top of the roof. What I'm thinking is that's really the one big hit that he took that might have hurt him."

In April, Priestley crashed a powerboat during a race in Miami, leaving one crew member with cracked ribs. In 1995, he crashed into a ditch during the Michelin SCCA Pro Rally in Olympia, Wash., but recovered to finish the race.

Last year, he completed an alcohol counseling program he was ordered to attend when he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor DUI charge stemming from a December 1999 car crash in the Hollywood Hills. Priestley's Porsche was totaled and a friend broke an arm in the accident.

Priestley was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards and produced and directed a number of documentaries, television dramas, cable network specials and music videos. His film credits include "Eye of the Beholder," "Calendar Girl" and "Love and Death on Long Island."

He began racing in 1991 in the California Rally Series and won his first race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1998. Last season, he was a broadcast analyst for the IRL series, and this year, joined the Kelley Racing team in the Infiniti Pro Series.

He is seventh in the series standings.