8 Dead in Mojave Off-Road Carnage

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

Aug. 15, 2010 -- An off-road racing accident in California's Mojave Desert that left eight people dead and 12 injured, may have occurred because fans wanted to get too close to the speeding trucks.

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.

Sloppy, of San Marcos, Calif., was operating the modified Ford Ranger along the 50-mile track at the desert event, where tens of thousands of revelers stood just feet away from trucks reaching speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour.

Race fans are supposed to keep themselves 100 feet away from the charging off-road vehicles, but the organizers of these races generally don't have the money to police the crowds -- so they depend on federal and local officials to patrol.

Fans say these types of races rarely have any sort of safety guards.

"That's desert racing for you," said John Payne, 20, one of the first people to reach the truck. "You're at your own risk out here. You are in the middle of the desert. People were way too close and they should have known. You can't really hold anyone at fault. It's just a horrible, horrible accident."

"You could touch it if you wanted to. It's part of the excitement," 19-year-old Niky Carmikle told The Associated Press as she sobbed at the scene. Her boyfriend, 24-year-old Zachary Freeman, was killed in the crash.

"There's always that risk factor, but you just don't expect that it will happen to you," she said.

Just after 8 p.m. PT, Sloppy took a daredevil jump called the "rock pile" at high speed, hit the brakes on landing and caused the truck to tumble, landing upside-down in the crowd, which gets as close as four feet from the unmarked track.

Seven ambulances and 10 emergency aircraft were deployed to the scene, which reportedly took more than half an hour to reach the remote location. Six people died at the scene while two died after being taken to a hospital.

Spectators said that off-duty police and firefighters present joined paramedics hired by the race organizer to assist the injured.

Most of the 12 injured were airlifted to hospitals. Paramedics brought five adults and one child to Loma Linda University Medical Center, spokesman Herbert Atienza said today.

Matt March, 24, said that he and several other fans lifted the truck and found four people lying unconscious underneath.

"[The driver] hit the rock and just lost control and tumbled," March said. "Bodies went everywhere."

"One girl we knew had blood coming out of her ears, her mouth. Bodies were flown everywhere, just bones broken, everything," said another witness.

Payne said that one of the victims was decapitated.

Those killed in the tragic accident included Freeman and 24-year-old Dustin Malson of Ventura, Calif.; Brian Wolfin, 27, Anthony Sanchez, 23, and Aaron Farkas, 25, all of Escondido; Danica Frantzich, 20, of Las Vegas; and Andrew Therrin, 22, of Riverside. The name of the eighth victim had not yet been released.

Sloppy, who was uninjured from the accident, was said to have had to flee the scene to escape angry spectators.

He has updated his Facebook page with the following message: "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."

Phone and e-mail messages left for the race organizer, South El Monte-based Mojave Desert Racing, were not immediately returned.

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."

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