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$5.8-million settlement reached in deadly 2010 off-road racing crash

The settlement in the Lucerne Valley accident, which killed eight and injured dozens of race spectators, 'comes as an enormous relief,' lawyers say.

December 18, 2013|By Rick Rojas
  • People push an overturned off-road racing truck upright after it went out of control and ran into a crowd of spectators during a race in Lucerne Valley in August 2010.
People push an overturned off-road racing truck upright after it went out… (Francis Specker, Associated…)

Three years after a truck competing in a desert off-road race careened into a crowd of spectators, a $5.8-million settlement was reached with the relatives of those killed and a dozen who were injured, their lawyers announced Wednesday.

In the 2010 accident in Lucerne Valley, the pickup truck, a modified Ford Ranger, went out of control during the California 200 race and became airborne, slamming into the crowd. The accident killed eight and injured dozens. The settlement, which is the resolution of multiple lawsuits filed by victims and their families, was reached Tuesday, the lawyers said.

The bulk of the settlement — about $4.8 million — is to be paid by the Bureau of Land Management, and the rest is to be paid by the event's organizers, Mojave Desert Racing Inc. and Mojave Desert Productions, which have an insurance policy limit of $1 million.

"It comes as an enormous relief," attorney Katherine Harvey-Lee said of the settlement, which marks the conclusion of a "long and very stressful time" for those affected by the accident.

She said those who were killed paid a "deadly, deadly price" that led to improving safety measures at events like the California 200. An internal review by the Bureau of Land Management found that the agency had failed to follow its safety procedures, namely keeping spectators from getting too close to the race track.

"There's a sense that — certainly with the BLM — they recognized there was a failure on their part to really put public safety first," Harvey-Lee said. "It means a lot to them that the government took this seriously and they were willing to look at mistakes that were made."

David Christy, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management in California, called the settlement "tentative," meaning it must be approved by the Justice Department before any money can be paid — a process that could take a few months. He declined to comment further.

Calls to the South El Monte-based organizer of the event were not immediately returned.

Lawyers for the victims claimed that the race was "negligently and recklessly" overseen, and that the spectators should not have been permitted to be so close to the track.

The suits alleged that the bureau — a federal agency within the Department of Interior, controlling 11 million acres of California desert — failed in its "mandatory duty" to insist that the event's organizers comply with requirements and clearly mark the track to separate spectators from the racers.

The event was understaffed, the suit also claimed, and no emergency medical service was available, meaning it took longer than 30 minutes for emergency crews to arrive.

The bureau's own investigation repeated some of those assertions, noting that the level of oversight was insufficient. The investigation found that the crowd had come within a few feet of the racing vehicles, when a 50-foot buffer was required. Organizers also estimated that about 200 to 300 people would attend, but the crowd that August day swelled up to 2,000 people, the probe found.

When the investigation's findings were released, officials with the bureau said it had "swiftly taken corrective action," including stricter rules for permits and having more rangers on the ground.

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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