EFFINGHAM COUNTY, Ill. (WTWO/WAWV) — A 5-year-old Altamont child was seriously injured Sunday at the Effingham County Fairgrounds when a horse racing pace car’s extended gate struck the child in the grandstand.

Effingham County Sheriff, Paul Kuhns said a little after 1:00 P.M. Sunday they were called out to the fairgrounds with reports of an accident between a vehicle and a child.

“We found out that it was actually the pace car in the first horse race. One of the booms, one of the starting gates, didn’t fold correctly or was still extended and struck a little five-year-old girl in the grandstand.”

What is a horse racing pace car?

“If you haven’t seen a pace car it’s a little difficult to explain. But the car has two large wings on the back that when they start off the races it keeps all of the horses in order. It keeps them from passing the pace car. But after they get the horses started and, on the pace, then those gates, those wings, fold up along the side of the car and the car can go on or turn off.”

The child, whom we’ve decided not to name at this time, was seriously injured, according to Sheriff Kuhn and was taken from the fairgrounds by ambulance to the local hospital, HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital, and then flown to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “I don’t know the extent of her injuries today,” the sheriff added.

“It’s difficult for me to say exactly what happened. But I know the gate struck the grandstand and struck this poor girl. And we know that wasn’t supposed to happen. But exactly why that happened? I don’t know that yet.”

Sheriff Kuhns says while he doesn’t expect criminal charges to be filed, the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating.

“We are still investigating this incident. To try to find out the ‘how’ and the ‘why.’ We do have evidence, there are several people that saw it, there’s some video, because that’s what we do,” he said. “I don’t anticipate any charges but there still are some questions that I’d like to see answered before we close this case.”

Sheriff Kuhns says however the state’s Attorney, Aaron Jones, has the final say in any potential charges.

Effingham County Fairgrounds (WTWO)

The sheriff went on to say what makes the situation even harder is the small community. “We all know each other. And of course, a lot of people were at the fairgrounds. Our hearts go out to the people that were involved in it,” Kuhns said. “Our condolences go out to the family and everyone else who is affected by this, because we all feel this.”

Phillip Hartkey, Fair Board President, said the grandstands were almost full Sunday afternoon. He stated that this was a traumatic event for everyone. “A terrible tragedy for a close-knit community.”

Harkey went on to say that the fair board cancelled all harness racing events for the remainder of the fair out of respect for the family. The rest of the fair will continue as planned.