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Federal officials launch probe of fatal California 200 accident

August 16, 2010 |  1:47 pm

Federal authorities announced Monday that they were launching a review of the accident that killed eight people at the California 200 off-road race.

The Bureau of Land Management has jurisdiction over the land where the race occurred and issued a permit to the organizer of the California 200.

The BLM is "continuing to cooperate with other involved law enforcement agencies in the law enforcement investigation. We expect the review and investigations to be done expeditiously, but we have no specific completion date. We will issue further information as it becomes available," the organization said in a statement.

The probe comes amid new questions about safety at the California 200.

The company that sponsored the event told the federal government that it had two men responsible for coordinating a response to a medical emergency.

When contacted by The Times, one of those two men said he was not assigned to any emergency or medical tasks at Saturday’s race, during which a truck plowed into a crowd assembled alongside the course.

Permit documents for the event, which were released by the BLM, identified Arcadia resident Dave Hatcher, a self-described volunteer for South El Monte-based MDR Productions, as one of two contacts in case of a medical emergency at the race.

Hatcher said he has filled such a role at previous events but was responsible on Saturday for managing a 30-mile race checkpoint.

“I didn’t remember that I was listed on there,” said Hatcher, when asked about the permit. MDR Productions paid the BLM a $95 fee to stage the race on federal land, plus $5 for each participating competitor.

The other person named on the permit as a contact for emergency response was Jim Williams of MDR Productions, which stands for Mojave Desert Racing.

His phone number, which is listed on the permit, currently has no voice mail that would make it possible to leave a message. Patricia Williams, the primary contact for MDR Productions on the federal permit, would not comment when approached by a reporter for The Times on the night of the race.

Her company did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on Sunday, and since the crash, her voice mail has been full.

Safety tips on the MDR website say that spectators should be at least 100 feet from the racing cars, but videos of this and earlier California 200 events suggest that spectators were much closer.

Six people died at the scene. Nine others were airlifted to local hospitals, where two of them died later in the evening, said Officer Joaquin Zubieta of the California Highway Patrol.

The San Bernardino County coroner's office identified seven of the dead: Zachary Freeman, 24, of Ventura; Brian Wolfin, 27, of Escondido; Anthony Sanchez, 23, of Escondido; Aaron Farkas, 25, of Escondido; Andrew Therrin, 22, of Riverside; Dustin C. Malson, 24, of Ventura; and Danica Frantzich, 20, of Las Vegas.

According to authorities, the driver involved in the incident, identified as Brett M. Sloppy, 28, of San Marcos, lost control of his truck after racing up a hilly spot known as the "rock pile,'' which attracts throngs of spectators every year. He was not arrested, and alcohol was not a factor in the crash, authorities said. However, officers had to escort him from the scene after spectators started "getting rowdy'' and shouted at the racer.

Investigators hope to review footage from a camera attached to Sloppy's truck.

-- David Zahniser and Phil Willon