LUCERNE VALLEY, Calif. – An off-road truck sailed off a jump and hurtled into a crowd at a race in the California desert, pinning bodies beneath it and sending others flying into a chaotic cloud of dust in a crash that killed eight people, authorities and witnesses said Sunday.

Twelve people were injured in the crash, which came shortly after the twilight start of the California 200 on Saturday night in the Mojave Desert, said San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman.

Witnesses said the driver — identified by authorities as Brett M. Sloppy of San Marcos — took a jump in an area known as “the rockpile” at high speed, hit his brakes on landing and rolled sideways into a crowd of hundreds of people standing with no barriers next to the course.

“He hit the rock and just lost control and tumbled,” said Matt March, 24, of Wildomar, who was standing next to the jump. “Bodies went everywhere.”

March said he and several other fans lifted the truck, a modified Ford Ranger that came to rest with its oversized wheels pointing toward the sky, and found four people lying unconscious underneath.

At least seven of those killed were in their 20s, including Zachary Freeman, 24, of Fillmore, according to the San Bernardino County coroner.

Freeman’s girlfriend, Niky Carmikle, 19, said she had left Freeman and his best friend — Dustin Malson, 24, of Ventura, who also was killed — to go to the bathroom when the crash happened. When she returned she found the wild aftermath.

“Bodies all over the ground, people screaming, and all I wanted to do was find my boyfriend and my friends,” Carmikle said.

She sobbed Sunday over a makeshift memorial on the spot of the crash: a small cross and a circle of rocks near the ruts in the ground left by the truck.

Sloppy, 28, wasn’t hurt. California Highway Patrol Officer Joaquin Zubieta said alcohol wasn’t a factor, and there were no plans to arrest him.

Zubieta said state vehicle codes don’t apply because it was a sanctioned racing event held with the approval of the federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land in the area.

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

The 200-mile race is part of a series held in the Mojave Desert’s Soggy Dry Lake Bed near the city of Lucerne Valley, 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Tens of thousands of people attend the California 200, in which a variety of off-road vehicles take jumps and other obstacles and reach speeds of over 60 mph on a 50-mile off-road course that is essentially just raw, unmarked desert terrain.

The race had been scheduled to last through the night.

The crowd, which included children, was standing within 10 feet of the track. Fans said the “rockpile” is one of the most popular areas to stand because they can get close to cars as they launch into the air, and no guard rails hold them back.


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