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Eight killed in off-roading crash in Johnson Valley

Updated at 1:20 p.m. Sunday with additional information.

JOHNSON VALLEY • 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 that came shortly after the twilight start of the California 200 Saturday night in the Mojave Desert, said San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman.

Witnesses said the driver 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.

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

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

Brian Wolfin, 27, and Anthony Sanchez, 23, both of Escondido died at the scene, and Aaron Farkas, 25, of Escondido died at a hospital. Also killed were Danica Frantzich, 20, of Las Vegas and Andrew Therrin, 22, of Riverside.

The eighth victim died in Riverside County, and no name has been released.

Six people died at the scene and two others died after being taken to a hospital, authorities said. Seven ambulances and 10 emergency aircraft responded, airlifting most of the 12 injured people from the area to hospitals.

Officials said the driver, whose name has not been released, wasn’t hurt. It was not clear why he lost control of the truck. 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.

“There were no barriers at all,” Jeff Talbott, inland division chief for the California Highway Patrol, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

He said that the driver was forced to run from the scene when the crowd grew unruly and some began throwing rocks at him. Several witnesses said they didn’t see anyone throwing rocks at the driver.

Fans said there are rarely any barriers or other safety guards at these races.

Derek Laogali, 22, of San Pedro, said Saturday night was the first time he’d ever been to an off-road race, and he witnessed the horror up close.

“I seen people on the floor with broken bones, people with blankets over them. I’m guessing they were dead,” Laogali said. “People were crying and screaming. It was a nightmare.”

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