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Spectators killed in California 200 race 'didn't have much of a chance,' CHP says

August 15, 2010 |  6:18 am

Phil photo Authorities said eight people were killed and dozens injured when a driver racing in the California 200 desert race in Lucerne Valley lost control of his off-roader, which went airborne and landed on top of  spectators.

“He got airborne and, when he landed, rolled over straight into the spectators,’’ said Officer Joaquin Zubieta of the California Highway Patrol, the agency investigating the deadly crash. “People didn’t have much of a chance … to get out of the way.’’

Six spectators died at the scene. Nine others were airlifted to local hospitals, two of whom died later in the evening, Zubieta said.

No charges have been filed against the off-road racer, whose identity has not been released by authorities. The driver had to be escorted away from the area after the crowd “started to get rowdy. People were upset,’’ Zubieta said.

The ages of those killed ranged from early 20s to late 40s. The names were withheld pending positive identification and notification of family.

The 200-mile race, held on desolate Soggy Dry Lake on federal desert land just east of the San Bernardino Mountains, was sanctioned by Mojave Desert Racing and was part of a seven-race circuit. Off-roaders race around the 50-mile-long loop four times and hit speeds topping 60 mph.

The white truck that plowed into the crowd remained at the scene, upside down, into the early-morning hours as CHP investigators crawled over the vehicle to search for any mechanical defects and to try to re-create the collision. Sponsorship decals plastered the sides of the truck.

The area was cordoned off with crime-scene tape through the night, and the CHP brought banks of lights for illumination as investigators combed over the patch of desert. Officers continued to interview witnesses, competitors and race officials well into the early-morning hours. Racing officials declined to comment about the incident.

The spot where the racer lost control was called the “rock pile.’’ The track snakes between giant boulders and up a small hill -– sending many of the off-roaders airborne.

On Saturday, hundreds of spectators had crowded around the site where the vehicle landed, some just a few feet from the main dirt track. Empty beer bottles and water bottles littered the area where the deadly incident occurred.

Because of the remote location, rescue units took more than half an hour to reach the racetrack, spurring  spectators and racing officials to tend to the wounded and dying until help arrived.

The only way to reach the dry lake bed, a popular area for off-roaders, is on a six-mile dirt road off California 247. Hundreds of campers were lined up around the track, housing both contestants and spectators.

-- Phil Willon in Lucerne Valley


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3 Escondido men among 8 killed in California 200 crash
California 200 tragedy: Past race videos show spectators dangerously close to racing vehicles

Updated, 9:34 a.m.: Witnesses describe horrific scene of California 200 crash that killed eight

Earlier: 8 dead, 12 hurt as vehicle plows into crowd at race in San Bernardino County

Photos, from top: The scene after the California 200 crash. Credit: Associated Press. The car involved in the incident. Credit: Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times.  At one point, workers pushed the truck upright. Credit: Associated Press. See more photos from the fatal California 200 crash here.