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5 People Burned in Desert Crash Still Unidentified

Coroner seeks names of those who died in a fiery accident on California 62 near the Arizona border. The vehicles collided head-on and exploded.

June 19, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Authorities were struggling Friday to identify five people killed in an explosive head-on collision on a remote Mojave Desert highway near the Arizona border.

The crash occurred about 2:40 p.m. Thursday when a 1991 Lincoln Town Car tried to pass a tractor-trailer on two-lane Highway 62 near the scarcely populated San Bernardino County hamlet of Rice, about 49 miles west of the Arizona state line.

"These bodies were so badly burned for so long it was like they were cremated," said Randy Emon, San Bernardino County supervising deputy coroner.

The driver of the Lincoln, which had three passengers, apparently was in a no-passing zone when he crossed a double-yellow line to pass the truck, according to a California Highway Patrol spokesman in Needles. He smashed into a Ford Bronco at the top of a slight rise.

"Neither driver saw the other one coming," said CHP spokesman Shannon Stumbaugh. "There weren't even skid marks. The cars were both absolutely demolished. It was a fireball."

The Lincoln was registered to a Phoenix man, but police could not confirm whether the owner was driving the car.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, whose name was not released, reported the crash to authorities. The nearest fire crew, volunteers from Big River, was 35 miles away and didn't begin extinguishing the flames until 40 minutes after the collision.

"Unfortunately, those cars were in one of the most isolated spots in California, in regard to their proximity to emergency services," Stumbaugh said.

Investigators had yet to determine the gender or age of the crash victims.

Emon said that, unless the next of kin of the Lincoln's occupants could provide information about who was in the car, DNA tests would be necessary.

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