ALL FIRED UP Delay, injury dampened race, but not spirits


A Pennsylvania man flying in the weather-delayed Preakness Week hot-air balloon race was injured yesterday when his craft hit a tree and landed in the backyard of a Northeast Baltimore home.

Rich Schroeder of Lancaster, Pa., suffered a fractured vertebra. He was treated at Good Samaritan Hospital and later transferred to Lancaster General Hospital, where he was listed in satisfactory condition last night.

His wife Sharon said he is scheduled to released tomorrow . "He should be okay," she said.

The accident was the only damper for the race, which had been canceled Saturday because of poor weather conditions.

Taking off from Oregon Ridge Park shortly before 7 a.m., 33 balloons took part in the "race" -- a hare-and-hounds event in which the pilots pursue a leader balloon, trying to navigate with wind currents and drop a marker closest to its landing site.

For the first time, a female pilot was the winner: Eva Brown of Richmond, Va., piloted her balloon so it skimmed the target area, a 300-foot radius, just above ground, enabling her to drop her marker within inches of the landing spot near Loch Raven Reservoir.

Her victory was worth $2,500, a bottle of champagne and a pewter bowl. Meghan Heltshe of Lancaster, won $1,500 for finishing second, while Michael Kirk of Louisville, Ky., won $1,000 for third place.

Mr. Schroeder was less fortunate as his balloon came down in the yard of 75-year-old Grace Norwood's home in the 4000 block of Pinewood Avenue, interrupting her vacuuming in the living room as her dog started to bark shortly before 8:30 a.m.

"I looked out and there it was," she said. "I left everything and grabbed my camera and took pictures. If I had been cleaning upstairs, I would have seen it perfectly."

Dan Sherrill, the race coordinator, said Mr. Schroeder meant to set his balloon down near the Norwood house, several miles from the reservoir. He said the balloon had to come in fast because it was a small landing place. "He intended to come in hard; he didn't intend to injure his back," Mr. Sherrill said. "It's kind of much ado about nothing."

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