Federal lawsuits filed in deadly off-road racing crash - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Federal lawsuits filed in deadly off-road racing crash

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The first federal lawsuits have been filed in San Diego's U.S. District Court in a deadly off-road racing crash involving a driver from San Marcos.

Eight spectators were killed in August 2010, and nearly a dozen were seriously injured. Four of the victims who died were from San Diego County.

The lawsuits name the United States of America, MDR Productions, Mojave Desert Racing, and off-road racer Brett Sloppy as defendants. One of the plaintiffs, Travis Bonnar recalls, "The truck was on top of me. My son was screaming, 'my dad's dead', and there were a lot of people around me that were dead."

Bonnar's neck was crushed, his spinal cord damaged, and his ribs broken. He told News 8, "I laid on the ground and watched and listened to people pass away who were half my age. I was in a helicopter with a man and we talked about his children and he passed away." Bonnar now has steel rods in his neck and continues to suffer from severe pain.

Bonnar and his wife Jennifer are plaintiffs in the case, along with their son Jakob, who was 13 at the time. Their daughter, Heather Haverkamp, who suffered a broken leg, is also a plaintiff. The family lives in Corona. A fourth plaintiff is Alan Freeman, whose son Zachary died in the crash.

Attorney Kate Gillespie, with Baum Hedlund Aristei and Goldman, PC, told News 8, "We're seeing the negligence. It really starts from the top and runs down." She says the Bureau of Land Management admits in its report it did not follow its own standard procedures for permitting the event.

There were also no barriers in place to keep the crowds safe. Gillespie said, "If you've ever been to the desert, you know what it looks like. It's pretty much sand and dirt, there aren't any traffic lanes. You really need those safety features there and the BLM admitted in their own report not only did they fail to provide trained and qualified employees and rangers on that day, they failed to intervene at all when they saw that really major policies and procedures were not being followed by the event promoter."
 
The lawsuits will seek monetary damage, but don't specify an amount. Travis Bonnar says compensation is not the priority, "There's no money in the world for a mother or father who buried their child."

Bonnar told News 8, "My purpose is to make the sport that I love so much a safer sport. This accident should not have happened."

Gillespie says she expects similar lawsuits on behalf of other victims will be filed in the near future.

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