Three dead, nine injured after employee accidentally drives jeep through auto auction crowd

(Reuters) - Three people were killed and nine were injured when a car smashed through a crowded auto auction in Billerica, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, local media reported, and police said the incident was not related to terrorism.

The deadly crash at the Lynnway Auto Auction occurred when a Jeep Cherokee being shifted by an employee inside the building barreled into a crowd of buyers after 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) witnesses told Boston's independent WHDH-TV.

The Massachusetts State Police said on Twitter that there were "fatalities among the multiple victims" but gave no details.

"At this point, there is no evidence or information to suggest the incident was caused by an intentional or terrorist act," the police statement said.

In the past year, people inspired by Islamist militants have used vehicles to kill or injure civilians in Ohio, the French city of Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.

ABC affiliate WCVB-TV and WHDH said three people were killed and more than a dozen hurt. Police and fire spokesmen in Billerica, a Boston suburb, could not be reached for comment.

Television aerial footage showed the Jeep smashed through the concrete wall of the auction building, where about 1,500 people had gathered for the sale.

Woody Tuttle, an auto auction employee, told WCVB that people were standing inside the building between lanes of cars when the Jeep sped up.

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"I heard a screeching of tires, and, I believe, a Jeep Cherokee went flying by me. In avoiding the cars, whoever was driving this vehicle hit several people," Tuttle said.

WHDH quoted police as saying the driver was a man in his mid-70s who may have mistaken the brake and accelerator pedals.

Lynnway's website bills the company as the largest auto auction in New England. A company Facebook posting just before the crash showed a photo of vehicles and said that cars were "lined up and ready for a beautiful Wednesday morning."