Bureau of Land Management to review fatal off-road crash - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Bureau of Land Management to review fatal off-road crash

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Workers push an overturned off-road race truck upright Sunday after it went out of control and plowed into a crowd of spectators during a race earlier in Lucerne Valley, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010. .(AP Photo/Francis Specker) Workers push an overturned off-road race truck upright Sunday after it went out of control and plowed into a crowd of spectators during a race earlier in Lucerne Valley, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010. .(AP Photo/Francis Specker)
Emergency workers look at an off-highway vehicle that lost control and barreled into a crowd of spectators on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010 at an off-road race called the California 200. Emergency workers look at an off-highway vehicle that lost control and barreled into a crowd of spectators on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010 at an off-road race called the California 200.
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LOS ANGELES – The federal Bureau of Land Management is conducting an official review of a weekend accident at an off-road race in the California desert that killed eight spectators.

Spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian said in a statement Monday that the agency is also cooperating with other law enforcement agencies in the investigation and reviewing all off-road vehicle events in the California desert for safety.

Eight fans were killed Saturday at the California 200 race in the Mojave Desert when a truck went out of control after a jump and hit a crowd lining the course. Other fans were injured.

Race promoter Mojave Desert Racing had a BLM permit for the event, which has raised questions about oversight and safety at the races on federal land.

 

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

 

LUCERNE VALLEY, California (AP) — Zachary Freeman loved to fish, dirt bike and camp — but most of all, he loved to watch off-road truck racing in the vast Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles.

That love would cost the 24-year-old pipe welder and seven other off-road enthusiasts their lives when a truck competing in the annual California 200 careened off the sand track Saturday and into the crowd, instantly killing Freeman and his best friend.

On Sunday, his girlfriend and his stepfather mourned at a simple cross-and-stone memorial set in the thick sand and waited in the blistering heat for a locksmith to arrive to change the ignition lock in Freeman's truck so they could take it home. His keys had been lost in the chaos; the coroner found only a lighter in his pocket.

"I'm just in shock. It's not real yet, it hasn't soaked in," said Randall Peterson, his grieving stepfather.

Freeman's girlfriend, Niky Carmikle, sobbed as she knelt down and placed her boyfriend's camouflage baseball hat in the center of the stone circle surrounding the wooden cross.

Carmikle recalled how she had stepped away from the race for a few minutes to use the bathroom and returned to find the truck upside down, bodies everywhere and people screaming in panic.

"His shoes are still over there. I can't even look," she said, gesturing to a bag full of abandoned clothing, shoes and blankets, some stained with blood. "It just isn't fair, it isn't right."

Shortly after the race began, one driver took a jump at high speed, hit his brakes on landing and rolled his truck sideways into spectators, sending bodies flying on a section of track that had no guardrails or anything else to keep the crowd back. Eight people were killed and 12 were injured.

Cheyenne Frantzich, 15, was watching the race with her sister, who was killed in the crash. "I just thought it would be fun to be close. And it was a big mistake," Frantzich told CBS' "Early Show" on Monday.

California Highway Patrol Officer Joaquin Zubieta said Brett M. Sloppy, 28, of San Marcos, was behind the wheel of the truck involved in the crash. Zubieta said alcohol was not a factor in the crash. The highway patrol estimated he was going about 50 mph (80 kph) at the time of the crash.

Zubieta said state vehicle codes don't apply because the race was a sanctioned event held with the approval of the federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land used for the race.

The BLM issued a statement saying safety was the responsibility of the race organizer, South El Monte-based Mojave Desert Racing. MDR's permit required racers to travel 15 mph (24 kph) or less when they were within 50 feet (15 meters) of fans, and allowed no more than 300 spectators for the event, the agency said.

BLM spokesman David Briery said the agency would cooperate with the CHP's investigation.

"We followed all our rules," he said by phone. "We don't think we did anything wrong."

Phone and e-mail messages left for MDR were not immediately returned. MDR is located in a house with a chain-link fence in a residential area of the eastern Los Angeles County city. The driveway was empty and no one appeared to be home when an Associated Press reporter went to the site Monday morning.

Tens of thousands of people were spread out along the 50-mile (80-kilometer) track, but the site of the crash, a stretch known as the "rockpile," is one of the most popular areas to gather because the trucks become airborne, witnesses said.

Six people died at the scene and two others died after being taken to a hospital, authorities said. Most of the 12 injured people were airlifted to hospitals.

Officials said Sloppy, the driver, wasn't hurt. It was not clear why he lost control of the truck, a white modified Ford Ranger with "Misery Motorsports" painted on the doors.

A Facebook page that appeared to belong to Sloppy and included a picture of his truck was updated Sunday with a note: "Soo incredibly lost and devistated my thoughts and prayers go out to all the familys and friends involved.. Thank you too all my friends for sticking with me even thru these tragic times I love you all."

___

Associated Press Writers Andrew Dalton and Christopher Weber reported from Los Angeles. AP writer Daisy Nguyen reported from South El Monte. AP Radio correspondent Shirley Smith in Washington contributed to this report.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

 

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