Off-Road Racing Accident Kills 8, Prompts Safety Concerns

Eight dead, 12 injured after truck catapulted into the crowd at high speed.

ByABC News via logo
August 16, 2010, 7:33 PM

Aug. 16, 2010 -- A makeshift memorial marks on the spot where a truck plunged into the crowd at a California off-road race Saturday, killing 8 people and injuring 12. The tragic accident has shaken the off-road racing community.

"We're just trying to help everybody out right now and get through it," said Keith Carty, who witnessed the deadly crash that took the life of his friend and neighbor, 27-year-old Brian Wolfin.

Hundreds of stunned off-road racing fans looked on horrified Saturday night at the carnage at the California 200 in the Mojave Desert, 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, after driver Brett M. Sloppy, 28, lost control of his truck that then catapulted into the crowd at high speed.

A thrilling weekend of family fun turned into pure horror. Carty described the chaotic scene as "a war zone."

"There was just carnage. I don't want to go too graphic, but there were definitely just really broken people," said Carty, who identified the bruised up and twisted body of his friend. "I knew Brian was dead when I saw him... I was right by his side within 10 to 20 seconds from when it happened."

Sloppy was driving a 3,500-pound modified Ford Ranger along the 50-mile track at the desert event, where he reached speeds of approximately 60 miles per hour just feet away from fans.

The accident took place at the Rockpile jump, which Carty said was the "center of this race" and the "most popular spot" for spectators to gather.

"Brian and all of those other people just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Carty said.

The deadly crash has provoked new questions about these largely unregulated races, which take place on raw, unmarked terrain, without guard rails. Fans are supposed to keep 100 feet away from the speeding off-road vehicles, but race organizers generally don't have the money to police the crowds.

Fans are also told to stay on just one side of the track -- a rule which was also ignored.

Off-road racer Wayne Nosala, the regional director for California Off-Road Vehicle Association, said he is worried that the accident might mean an end to the sport.

"California is one of the only states that allows this type of activity, and it's one of the last frontier areas where we can actually go out and race these cars and compete," he said. "It could severely constrain us to the point where we can't even race."

But Carty said the safety concerns were "overrated" and that he and Wolfin were not standing too close to the racetrack.

"It's the same thing as crossing the street, that's all it is. You look both ways," he said. "I definitely never put my back to the racetrack...You just have to really keep your head about things and realize that it falls downhill."