The Associated Press is reporting that eight people are dead after an off-road racing truck hit spectators near the start of the California 200 off-road race Saturday evening. Witnesses say the truck had just completed a jump called "the rockpile" that occurs about two miles from the start of the race when it lost control, struck spectators and came to a rest on its roof. Six people died at the scene, two others after being airlifted to the Loma Linda University Medical Center and 12 others were injured. It reportedly took rescue vehicles and helicopters a half hour to reach scene, during which time spectators tried to help the injured. Witnesses say the driver of the truck, who remains unidentified, had to flee the scene after some spectators became hostile and began to throw rocks at him. [UPDATE: Reports of the driver being pelted with rocks have not been verified, with some witnesses claiming it never happened.]
The California 200 is a 200-mile off-road race that occurs in the Mojave Desert close to the city of Lucerne Valley, just 100 miles away from Los Angeles. As with most off-road races of this type, there are no barriers separating spectators from race vehicles that can rocket by at near triple-digit speeds while facing obstacles like jumps that are designed to get all four wheels off the ground.
While the California Highway Patrol normally does not investigate crashes at organized motorsport events, AP reports that the CHP has taken the lead on this one due to its "scope". The Federal Bureau of Land Management is also assisting. At this point, it's not known what caused the driver of the truck to lose control, though we expect that and the driver's identity to be revealed in due time.
The families of the victims will be in our thoughts as we try to process this tragedy, and we'll let you know as soon as more information is available.
UPDATE: The non-profit organization FAST-aid is accepting donations to assist families of the victims. 100% of the donations will go to assist the families, which is pretty great.
UPDATE 2: Video news reports added after the jump from local news station, plus a CNN video that shows how close spectators may have been to the track.
[Source: Associated Press]