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Witnesses describe horrific scene of California 200 crash that killed eight

Witnesses to the crash at the California 200 off-road race near Lucerne Valley that left eight dead described a chaotic scene where the victims had no chance to flee from the out-of-control car that plowed into fans.

Jeff Musgrave, an off-roader from Orange County who was watching the race, called it a gruesome scene, but defended the driver.

"All I saw was the dust, and then I saw about 30 people on the ground. It was just brutal,’’ Musgrave, 43, told The Times. “The problem is the crowd was just too close. I don’t think the [racer] did anything stupid. He just hit it way too hard."

The accident occurred Saturday night as a large crowd watched the race. CHP officials said the driver's car went airborne and rolled right into spectators. Six spectators died at the scene. Nine others were airlifted to local hospitals, two of whom died later in the evening.

 A photographer at the race described a scene of devastation. "There was dust everywhere, people screaming, people running," David Conklin told the Associated Press. "When I got up to the vehicle, I could tell that several people were trapped. There were just bodies everywhere. One woman with a major head wound [was] lying in a pool of blood. Someone else was crushed beneath the car."

The California 200 night race in the Lucerne Valley area, off Bessemer Mine Road, was promoted by MDR Productions of South El Monte. A flier listed on a website indicated that fees to enter the race ranged from $200 to $440.

-- Phil Willon in Lucerne Valley and Rong-Gong Lin II in Los Angeles

Photo: Spectators try to console each other after the California 200 crash. Credit: Associated Press


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Comments () | Archives (40)

This is an extraordinarily sad case.

But the fact that the driver had to flee an attack by the race fans -- who reportedly left an area littered with empty beer bottles where they had been standing a mere 10 feet from vehicles going fast enough to become airborne in a tricky part of the course -- is yet another illustration of why so many professional drivers express what can most charitably be described as 'mixed feelings' about race fans, who they feel come to races, in large part, to see spectacular crashes.

Race fans will try to deny that uncomfortable observation, but the proof is clearly in the marketing of these races -- just watch any television advertisement for such an event to see how prominently crashes are featured in them.

As long as thrill-seeking, alcohol-fueled fans are foolish enough to stand less than a dozen feet from vehicles moving so fast as to become airborne, there are going to be terrible incidents like this.

Do not blame the driver.

This reminds one of all the road races in the former Soviet Block countries where scores of bystanders and killed every year. It's dumb, dangerous, and a general waste of fuel and time but the fans and racers don't seem to care. Darwin once again goes unchallenged.

We can't do anything right in this state any more. We're cursed. Im convinced of it. Our economy is in shambles. Our taxes are sky-high as is our unemployment. Crime is as usual a constant threat. People are fleeing the state in droves to get away from all of the above. Even the Dodgers can't seem to pull out a victory in the 8th inning with a 5 run lead.
If I never believed in Karma before, I do now.

People should have common sense enough to sit back from the track. I don't believe we should stop people from this sport, we should just make people set farther back and not bring any minors. It's a risk that people who have any sort of intellegence know they are risking sitting that close to the event.

Wow you sensor comments! You also refused to post mine in the past when you disagreed with them. Thanks from Fox News!!!!! You make them #1 .

look at the video tapes of the event, you have tons of people, mostly intoxicated, right on the area where these large trucks come flying. literally flying. you cant stop people from being idiots......

I'm really trying to have and show sympathy, compassion and understanding. But what ever happened to an individual's responsibility for the safety of himself/herself, and of others? Why in the world were spectators standing along the sides of the race track, with no safety barricades whatsoever? Just watch one NASCAR or similar race and see all of the safety-related efforts they have in place for fans, drivers, crew - everybody. Was this event truly "sanctioned" by a proper sanctioning body, or was it just put on by a profit-minded promoter? The people in harm's way should have asked themselves if they were safe where they were standing. The "promoters" and others should have seen the potential for disaster. Are we learning NOTHING from one generation to the next? My condolences to the survivors and friends of the victims, but this absolutely could have been - and SHOULD have been - avoided. Period.

"A flyer listed on a website indicated that fees to enter the race ranged from $200 to $440."

What does this information have to do with anything?

So sad for the driver, this will remain in his conscious for the rest of his life. As for those who were hurt and killed--- for one they should have known the dangers in being spectators in this sport, and only idiots would stand in unprotected areas that close to the track. They got what they asked for-- unobstructed front-row seats to see the action!

People need to understand that this is a dangerous sport, a fact, all involoved are fully aware of. This driver did NOTHING wrong. People need to understand that very clearly. As a wife of an off road driver, my heart goes out to everyone involved. This is a driver's worst nightmare. Negative comments are nothing but distasteful and should be removed. If you dont understand what we do, move on to another new story.

thinning of the herd!
ya it's sad this happened.. but cannot blame the driver, accidents happen racing.
I myself crashed once, an NHRA sanctioned drag race, flipped my car doing 160 when a front tire blew apart. walked away because the sanctioning body required certain safety equipment and safety rules in place at the track required fences and buffer zone along the track to protect the spectators

this tragic accident could have been avoided if a few people at the very least had used their brains... senseless stupidity from a few knuckleheads all in the name of $$$

to all the families of the killed and injured people i am so very sorry, but please know that this was in no way the drivers fault. it is sad that the driver had to run for his life, i am sure he will never be the same. this will be with him forever. as far as comparing this to nascar well you really cant. that is on private porperty where they can control the croud. this is the open desert. you have to really be smart enough to understand the risk.and know there were many older people in the crowd not just youth. we all want to be close to the action but sometimes people pay the ultimate price for a thrill.there should be some type of common sense in the crowd.

can the driver be charged for murder or anything like that?

Jim Q reminds us of similar frightful experiences in the Soviet Union. The comparison is apt since we're known as the Peoples Republic of California.

Standing close to the track and fueled by beer...what do you expect from these misfits? Yes, it was a tragedy, but one that common sense and less alcohol could have avoided.

In no way is this the drivers fault. That would be like saying the Bull is to blame when it rams a participent at the " Running of the Bulls". The fans that assaulted the driver should be ashamed,maybe they thought they were in a Mosh Pit.

I'd like to address Minnesota Mike's questions:

"Why in the world were spectators standing along the sides of the race track, with no safety barricades whatsoever? Just watch one NASCAR or similar race and see all of the safety-related efforts they have in place for fans, drivers, crew - everybody."

In desert racing it is the responsibility of spectators to use proper judgment in determining a safe distance from which to watch the race. It's not practical to put up barricades along the entire race course. Certainly putting up barricades at popular viewing areas is reasonable. Keep in mind, however, that NASCAR has vastly more resources than all of the desert racing organizations combined, so that isn't a fair comparison.

"Was this event truly "sanctioned" by a proper sanctioning body, or was it just put on by a profit-minded promoter?"

There is no "sanctioning body" for desert racing. There are only promoters, and each promoter is free to come up with whatever rules they choose. Racers and fans are free to participate in events put on by a particular promoter if they so choose. As far as profit is concerned, the fees paid by racers go to cover permits, insurance, trophies, and miscellaneous other expenses. Spectators are not charged. Most of the promoters are staffed exclusively by volunteers, but the fact that they are volunteers doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't extremely professional in their conduct, since most of them have been involved in desert racing for many years. Rest assured that among the smaller desert racing promoters nobody is making any significant amount of money. It is a labor of love.

Lets all stand 25ft or less from trucks that can do 80 mph plus. these races will be shut down if people dont wise up !!!

Wow! I am sad to hear this for all the people injured. I will have to say this! any kind of race should have restrictions to how close people can get up to the course. Although it's not the driver fault, it's the promoters fault for letting people get this close. A lot of this could have been avoided had the promoter of the race advised fans of the danger. I know personally how cool it is to be this close and it often creates more spectators just because of it; but when lives are lost because of negligence, it shows the lack of responsibility some promoters have. This just plain and simple should not have happened. I also understand races are fueled by cool crashes as well but promoters have to look after the fans safety or not have them at all. Even caution signs in the area would have helped or just plain and simple DO NOT ENTER a specific area, enter at your own risk. These things alone, will give the people a choice and a think twice attitude. If an event had fee to enter a race, the promoter is liable by law! plain and simple because it's up to any promoter the create a safe environment to the public when charging a price for personal gain. Now the Baja races in Mexico, different story! this is America where we do things to protect the people. I will be almost positive, the promoter of this race will be sued! you can't blame the fans for going into an area like this, especially if they see others doing it and no signs around advising the risk and hazard. People, will take as much as they can get for a close up visual in any race but again, it's up to the promoter to create a safe environment as well as the land owner who allowed the race. Their will be no questions asked if this goes to court. I hate to say but these are laws that will come creeping out of the books and most promoters are never even aware of it. Advice to the promoter...., always protect the people rule number one! and in the long run you will protect your own ass.

Do not try to say it wasn't their (the drivers) fault. The race drivers know they have no business driving like that when there are people standing nearby. To absolve them of responsibility is unrealistic. When you are driving that fast and there are people standing right there, you know you are going to crash into them if you lose control. Period.

Being a racer and understanding the dangers and risks of racing, I have to applaud the mostly supportive comments for the racers that are posted on this board. Racing is a serious and dangerous sport with huge dynamics. The unfortunate side if this reality lies with the spectators. Too many spectators do NOT take racing seriously and simply do not understand the mechanics of racing. In an age where people seem to care less and less about personal safety, maybe it is time to do their thinking for them and put tougher viewing restrictions in place. It is truely a shame to take this aspect away from an open-air sport like this but at the end of the day, it may actually work to save the sport itself.

My condolences to the survivors, friends and family. I do hope they take something positive away from this unfortunate incident.

Don't blame the DRIVER!

There's no cure for stupidity...

As an active member of an off road race team, these spectators were at their own risk standing this close to the track. Anyone watched Dust to Glory? Those people standing next to the course are not placed there or told to stand there. You do it at your own risk. It is very sad and our hearts go out to all of those who lost their lives. The driver is not at fault here and should not be blamed.

My comparison to NASCAR has been blown out of proportion - my fault to a degree, for not explaining my thoughts more fully. No, I don't expect walls or barricades along the entire length of an open course. But there are numerous things that can indeed be taken into consideration to improve safety for the fans. I'll leave those concepts up to the people who are more immediately involved in the sport than I am. But anyone involved in the sport should, from now on, absolutely be asking themselves what they can do to make it safer. THAT is what NASCAR does, they constantly work on safety issues. They had to learn that approach, too. They lagged on driver and fan safety for decades. But we're supposedly bright people here in this 21st Century. We oughta be able to come up with some ways to improve safety at these off-road events. Give it a try.

Now the cops are going to start raking people over the coals and they WILL start causing financial harm as well as more emotional harm. Whenever something like this happens the system always seem to facilitate someone going to prison. Did you know we are one of the top three countries in the world for jailing citizens? They cant accept an accident for what it is. They have to cost us alot of $$$ just for them to see what is right in front of their noses.

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