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Federal agency failed to properly monitor off-road race that killed 8, report says

November 19, 2010 | 12:56 pm

The federal Bureau of Land Management failed to follow its own procedures for overseeing an August off-road desert race in San Bernardino County in which eight spectators were killed when a racer crashed into a crowd, an internal agency report released Friday determined.

Similar failures for permitted off-road events occurred throughout the 11 million acres of California desert under the agency's control, the report found.

"This tragic accident was a call for us to take an unvarnished look at what went wrong and what BLM can do to improve safety and oversight of these types of races," Acting BLM State Director Jim Abbott said in a prepared statement released Friday. 

"We are cooperating fully with the California Highway Patrol's ongoing investigation into the accident, but our own internal review found we did not follow agency procedures in permitting and overseeing the event," he said. "We have swiftly taken corrective action by implementing the recommendations of the review team, raising the bar for oversight and safety at all such events, and moving forward with a sense of shared responsibility and accountability."

The national director of the agency, Bob Abbey, also issued a directive stating that no permits for off-road races are to be issued if agency officials cannot ensure proper oversight and required safety measures are followed and enforced.

Eight spectators were killed and 10 seriously injured in the California 200 race in the Lucerne Valley when driver Brett Sloppy of San Marcos lost control of his modified Ford Ranger pickup after going airborne on a hill known as the "rock pile," where more than 100 fans had gathered to watch the race. The truck rolled into the crowd, which had crept to within a few feet of the track, just minutes after the race began.

Witnesses and video of the race, one of more than 100 such events held annually on BLM-controlled land, showed that the promoter, Mojave Desert Racing of El Monte, failed to adhere to a requirement in its contract with the BLM to keep spectators 50 feet away from the racing vehicles.

Officials with the California Highway Patrol said the truck came to rest less than 10 feet from the racecourse. The driver will not face charges related to the crash because it occurred during a "sanctioned" sporting event permitted by the BLM and did not involve public roadways, CHP officials have said.

Days after the tragedy, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California called on the BLM to explain why "proper precautions" were not in place.

The senators also asked the BLM director to provide information about penalties imposed on race organizers who violate their permits, whether the agency collects data on safety violations and how that information is used.


Photos: Eight die when California 200 racer loses control

U.S. agency suspends off-road events organized by promoter of deadly race

Feinstein, Boxer demand answers on safety measures at deadly California 200 race on federal land

-- Phil Willon

Photo: On Aug. 15, Niky Carmikle, 19, right, and a friend walk from a makeshift marker near the spot where her boyfriend, Zachary Freeman, was killed in the off-road-race tragedy in the Lucerne Valley. Credit: Kurt Miller/ Associated Press / Riverside Press-Enterprise