SONOMA (CBS SF/AP) — A makeshift noose was found hanging from a tree at the Sonoma Raceway and the sheriff’s office said it was investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said the noose was found by a raceway employee around 8 a.m. Saturday near the site’s old administration building, according to the sheriff’s office.
The rope was weathered and seemed to have been hanging for an extended period of time. The sheriff’s office said a raceway tenant remembered seeing the rope hanging from the tree seven to eight years ago after a model airplane crashed, but it was not tied in a noose back then.
Sheriff’s detectives are looking through video surveillance footage for leads in the case and the FBI is also investigating.
“We understand why this case is disturbing for many people. We take potential hate crimes very seriously and want everyone to feel safe in Sonoma County,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release.
Raceway President Steve Page said a “piece of twine tied in what appeared to be a noose” was found hanging from a tree Saturday behind a former administrative office.
“Our staff, on-site business tenants and local law enforcement have been contacted and asked to share any information they may have,” Page told the sports network. “The incident is under investigation by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. Sonoma Raceway takes this incident very seriously and is dedicated to operating a facility that is welcoming to everyone.”
Sonoma Raceway was closed over the weekend due the coronavirus pandemic.
The discovery at Sonoma, the biggest auto racing venue in the Bay Area, came before a noose was found in the garage of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Wallace is the only full-time Black driver in NASCAR.
Wallace has been a prominent activist in the sport and was instrumental in calling on NASCAR to ban Confederate flags at its events.
On Tuesday the Associated Press reported the noose found hanging in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway had been there since at least last October.
U.S. Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said an investigation determined “although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.”
Dozens of drivers pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the field before the race and Wallace was emotional after finishing 14th and spending time in the top five, slapping hands with a group of mostly African-American fans.
”I’m proud to stand where I’m at. … This sport is changing,” Wallace said. “The deal that happened (Saturday) I wanted to show whoever it was, you are not going to take away my smile. I am going to keep on going.”
The stock car series was left reeling and angered by the racist act that came less than two weeks after it banned the Confederate flag on its properties at Wallace’s urging. It has vowed to permanently bar the person responsible, but the investigation was in its early stages.
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