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August 21, 2023

Chester County man dies in crash during Reading's Duryea Hillclimb racing event

Each summer, drivers compete against the clock as they ascend Mt. Penn. Kihurani Gakuu, 66, was killed when his car struck a tree as he approached a turn on Saturday afternoon

Investigations Crashes
Duryea Hillclimb Crash Street View/Google Maps

The Duryea Hillclimb in Reading ends at the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower shown above on Skyline Drive. Kihurani Gakuu, 66, of Chester County, died after he struck a tree with his car Saturday during the motorsport competition.

A Chester County man died over the weekend after his car struck a tree during the Duryea Hillclimb, an annual car racing competition held in Reading.

Kihurani Gakuu, 66, of East Caln Township, suffered a fatal head injury in Saturday's crash, according to the Berks County Coroner's Office. Sunday's portion of the racing event was canceled. 

The Duryea Hillclimb is affiliated with the Sports Car Club of America, a national road racing organization that sanctions amateur and professional events. Hillclimbing involves drivers competing against the clock to finish uphill courses.

Saturday's crash happened at 4 p.m. during a single-car time trial event. Gakuu's car struck a tree as he approached a turn on the Skyline Drive portion of the 2.25-mile course, the Reading Eagle reported.

"We decided that it was in everybody's best interest to not have an event (on Sunday)," Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association President Rich Rock told the newspaper. "We consulted with our club's national office, all the way up to the president of the Sports Car Club of America, and we consulted with some top city and community leaders (and) top city officials."

The Duryea Hillclimb and another race called Pagoda date back to 1951. They are among the oldest motorsport competitions of their kind in the northeast. Both take place on Reading's Duryea Drive, named after inventor and builder Charles Duryea. Around the turn of the 20th century, Duryea developed the first successful hillclimbing gasoline automobile in the United States, according to the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association

Saturday's crash happened on the extended portion of the course that's shared by both races in Reading. The Duryea Hillclimb continues onto a scenic stretch of Skyline Drive and ends at the 120-foot-tall William Penn Memorial Fire Tower, which overlooks the city from atop Mt. Penn. Reading is about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia. 

In 1978, another driver died after crashing into a tree on the Skyline Drive portion of the course.

The Pagoda took place in June and is one of six competitions managed by the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association. 

The Berks County Coroner's Office said no autopsy is planned for Gakuu.

"Our club members (and) the hillclimb community mourns the loss," Rock said Sunday. "We feel deep sympathy to the family members and friends."