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California Patrol: Driver in deadly race crash will not face charges

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Were some spectators too close to off-road event?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Bureau of Land Management says it will review accident, other desert events
  • The California Highway Patrol says it will not file criminal charges against the driver
  • The driver says he is devastated by the incident
  • Truck crash at the off-road desert race leaves eight people dead

See local coverage from CNN affiliate KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, California.

(CNN) -- The driver of a truck that crashed into a crowd of spectators in a California desert, killing eight, will not face criminal charges, a spokesman for the highway patrol said on Monday.

Four people were also taken to hospitals in serious condition after the Saturday crash at an off-road race in Southern California's Mojave Desert. Five others suffered minor to moderate injuries.

"The reason we are not going to file criminal charges is because it was a sanctioned event," said Mario Lopez, a California Highway Patrol spokesman.

Lopez added that California vehicle codes did not apply to the race because permits were issued to the event's organizers. He said any safety violations would be investigated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land where the race happened, or by agencies that handle permitted events.

The 200-mile race was part of an amateur series on a course in the Lucerne Valley area of San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, said Tim Franke of the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

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The Bureau of Land Management has said it is looking into the deadly crash, as well as conducting a safety review of other off-road vehicle events in the state's deserts.

The race's sanctioning body, Mojave Desert Racing, urges spectators to stay back 100 feet from the 50-mile course.

"But as you can tell, there are no delineations to where the track begins and where the track ends at this point," said Joaquin Zubieta, a California Highway Patrol spokesman.

Images from the night of the crash show trucks speeding within feet of spectators.

Mojave Desert Racing was not immediately available for comment. The land management bureau has said the group was responsible for the safety of everyone at the race.

"You can give all the warnings you want, but at the end of the day, they're out there, they're on their own and they do what they want," Larry Webster, automotive editor for Popular Mechanics magazine, said about off-road race crowds.

"It's almost like a vehicular version of running with the bulls, and obviously we can tell it's really dangerous," he told CNN.

Authorities have identified Brett Sloppy as the driver of the out-of-control truck. In a Facebook message, Sloppy, who has not responded to repeated requests by CNN for comment, said he was devastated by what happened.

"Soo incredibly lost and devistated [sic] my thoughts and prayers go out to all the familys and friends involved," the San Marcos resident said on his Facebook page late Sunday. "Thank you too all my friends for sticking with me even thru these tragic times I love you all."

Vince Dimiao, a driver who was running just ahead of the truck that crashed, said races often take place at night because of the extreme daytime heat. He said officials initially halted the race for an hour because of the crash, then canceled it when the scope of the "carnage" became known.

Keith Carty, who had a friend killed in the California crash, told CNN's HLN that races attract a certain type of person -- someone who wants to participate as much as watch an event.

"These are hard-core, off-road enthusiasts," he said about people who attend off-road races.

"It's not anybody's turn to baby-sit us. We're out there -- we understand the risk. Everybody that was there understood the risk -- the drivers, the spectators, everybody," said Carty.

Jonathan Davy, who attended Saturday's deadly race and captured the accident on video, said he sensed the danger even before the crash. The event was his first off-road race.

"What seemed to be like a great day ... something I had never been to before, just turned tragic," he said. "It's forever going to be in my head. I couldn't sleep last night. I got chills right now just thinking about it."

CNN's Stan Wilson, Nick Valencia, Chuck Johnston and Rick Martin contributed to this report.