Off-road truck racer kills 8 spectators

August 17, 2010


A truck crashed during a desert race in California killing eight spectators on 14 August. The unfortunately-named driver, Brett M. Sloppy, lost control of his modified Ford Ranger after going up a feature called the ‘rock pile’ at the California 200 causing him to go airborne, land, and roll straight over the spectators.

Workers push an overturned off-road race truck upright after it went out of control and ran into a crowd of spectators killing 8. Francis Specker/The Associated Press

The 320 kilometre race was organized by Mojave Desert Racing of South El Monte and was held at Soggy Dry Lake Bed in the Johnson Valley Off-highway Vehicle Area on US federal land. The land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The race was part of a seven race circuit. Drivers reach speeds up to 160 kph on the 80 kilometre off-road course. The crowd was standing within three metres of the track with no guard rails separating them from the trucks.

The finger pointing has already begun. Some are blaming the promoter asserting that whilst the sport has its inherent risks, they allege the spectators were too close and that there ought to have been barriers between them and the racers. Others blame the BLM for not properly regulating off-road vehicles noting they issued the permits for the race.

Spectators dying at races are not unusual. Eight people were killed in February 2008 when a car plowed into a crowd that was watching an illegal drag race in Accokeek, Maryland. One of the two racers was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison; the other is awaiting trial. Six people were killed in June 2007 when a dragster went out of control and smashed into spectators during a fundraising festival in Selmer, Tennessee. The driver was convicted of misdemeanor reckless assault charges and sentenced to 18 months probation.

The California 200 was intended to test the limits of off-road driving. Instead it will test the criminal culpability of the driver and race organizer, the duty of care owed by the land manager and the organizer to the event’s spectators, and how much risk is to be reasonably assumed by the spectators. This case would hinge on what the courts consider reasonable or reckless in the circumstances. The ghosts of Wooldridge v Sumner [1963] 2 QB 23 would be amused.

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One Comment on “Off-road truck racer kills 8 spectators”

  1. Beth Simpson Says:

    I don’t like off-road racing. It’s a bane to the ecology of the land the event is racing over. Flora and fauna just get plowed under and, in events just as you have reported – humans get plowed under as well. Racing should be conducted on properly set up and managed racetracks.


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