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8 die in off-road racing disaster; 'hero' lauded

August 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Officials have confirmed the identities of the eight victims that died in an off-road racing crash in the Mojave Dessert on Saturday.The victims have been identified as:

  • Andrew Therrien, 22, of Riverside.
  • Dustin Malson, 24, of Ventura.
  • Danica Frantzich, 20, of Las Vegas.
  • Anthony Sanchez, 23, of Escondido.
  • Brian Wolfin, 27, of Escondio.
  • Aaron Farkas, 25, of Escondido.
  • Zachary Freeman, 24, of Fillmore.
  • The eight victim whose identity was released Sunday is Michael Dickinson, 34, of Spring Valley. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.

Wolfin and Sanchez died at the scene. Farkas died at a hospital.

Those who know Therrien said the single father pushed his 3-year-old daughter and another young boy out of the way, sacrificing his own life.

Paramedics transported six people - five adults and a child - to Loma Linda University Medical Center, spokesman Herbert Atienza said Sunday. He had no information on their condition.

Other injured victims were believed to be taken to St. Mary's Medical Center.

According to the California Highway Patrol, five victims received major injuries and five others suffered minor injuries.

There was, "everything from lifeless bodies to exposed bones to people with broken legs," said Ron Rooney, who witnessed the crash.

The crash happened just before 8 p.m. during the California 200 off-road race in the Soggy Dry Lake bed near Lucerne Valley.

The truck had just jumped over an area known as "the rockpile" in high speed before it barreled into the crowd and came to rest upside down with its wheels pointing into the air, just two miles into the start of the race. Spectators rushed to the truck and about half a dozen people flipped it upright to try to help at least one person pinned underneath.

CHP identified the driver of the truck as Brett M. Sloppy, 28, of San Marcos. He was not injured, but reportedly had to run from the scene when the crowd became unruly and began throwing rocks at him. It was not clear why he lost control of the truck, but CHP confirmed that alcohol was not a factor on Sloppy's part. No charges were filed against him, and he was not arrested.

Sloppy posted a message on his Facebook page apologizing to those involved in the tragic crash.

"Thank you to all my friends for sticking with me even through these tragic times. I love you all," he posted.

Sloppy went on to post, "So incredibly lost and devastated. My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families and friends."

It took rescue crews more than half an hour to reach the remote location. Spectators, including off-duty police and firefighters, helped the injured and placed blankets over the dead.

Seven ambulances and 10 emergency aircraft responded to the remote location, trying to get the most seriously injured victims to the hospital as soon as possible. Because of how remote the location was, it took half an hour for helicopters to get to the scene.

There were no barriers separating the crowd from the dirt track, and the onlookers were in very close proximity of the speeding vehicles. There are no rules or regulations as to where spectators can stand.

"At first, it was a lot of yelling and a lot of screaming," said Jonathan Davy, who witnessed the crash. I panicked and we ran down there to check on everyone and there were people lying on the floor. It was quite scary."

"I looked back to talk to my friend and I saw the car roll a little bit and I saw blood on the floor and people trying to give CPR," said another witness. "Everybody was trying to help."

The California 200 draws thousands every year. The length of the race is approximately 50 miles and the trucks reach speeds of up to 100 mph.

The CHP and the federal Bureau of Land Management are investigating the incident. The event was sponsored by the South El Monte-based Mojave Desert Racing.

The BLM, which owns the land used for the race, said the race organizer signed a permit agreeing it would be responsible for safety at the event. A BLM spokesman said "Mojave Desert Racing" signed a permit requiring drivers to slow to 15 mph when they're within 50 feet of the fans and that no more than 300 spectators could attend the event.

The event was sanctioned by the bureau and was paid for by MDR.

According to the company website, spectators are required to stay at least 100 feet away from the track, something those who attend the event say rarely happens.

MDR offered the following statement: "MDR offers its sincere condolences and prayers to all those affected by the incident in Lucerne Valley. We would like to thank all those individuals who helped at the scene."

On Sunday, attendees put together a small memorial marking the spot where the tragedy occurred.

"I owe my son's life as well as many others, including his daughter, they were inches away from him and he had to save their lives," said Derek Cox who was at the race. "He's a hero in my book and always will be."

Family and friends said they aren't surprised by Therrien's selfless action.

"Andrew, he just loved his friend and loved excitement," said Therrien's father, Robert. "I'm going to miss him."

He said it comforts him to hear his son was a hero willing to risk his life to save others.

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