The long-awaited crash report on the deadly multi-vehicle accident that occurred in August 2010 has been released.
New details emerge in the report, but the questions that have been most asked still have no answers. There was no determination made on the cause of the driver distraction or inattention that ultimately led to the crash or what caused one of the vehicles to catch on fire.
The entities charged with investigating the collision, the Multi-Agency Investigative Team, or MAIT, released the report earlier this month to the California Highway Patrol and the parties involved as well as related legal firms. Officer Dennis Cleland of the Bishop CHP said that the report is not released to the public, but he could answer questions about its content.
The report details what happened the night of Aug. 9, at approximately 8:30 p.m. on U.S. 395 near the weigh station about five miles south of Bishop. Much of the information is not new.
Natalie Nield, 17, was driving a Ford Expedition SUV southbound on 395 at approximately 85 mph. Nield and five others, a coach and four seniors or recent graduates of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, were returning from high-altitude athletic training in Mammoth.
According to the report, Neild was “distracted or inattentive” for an unknown reason and the SUV quickly gained on two slower moving semi-trucks, one passing the other and taking up both southbound lanes.
Nield then took “evasive” measures and steered into the right shoulder. Nield then turned “aggressively” to the left and the SUV began what the report describes as “an unrecoverable turn.”
The SUV skidded counter-clockwise then rolled through the center divider. Sometime during the skid and roll the SUV caught fire for an unknown reason. The SUV came to rest on its right side on U.S. 395 northbound lanes.
At the same time, a three-van convoy from California Baptist University full of cross-country team members on their way to Mammoth for high-altitude training was heading northbound on U.S. 395. The middle van in the convoy collided with the burning SUV, causing the fuel tank on the SUV to explode.
The SUV landed with tires up, a crushed roof and two fatalities, Amanda Post, 18, and Nield. A third passenger would die later from wounds suffered in the accident. The coach, John Nathan Adams, was taken off life support in October 2010 at the behest of his family due to extensive and unrecoverable blunt force trauma and extensive burns.
The driver of the van struck by the SUV, 35-year-old cheer leading coach Wendy Suzanna Rice, was pronounced dead at the scene. The 15 passengers of the van all suffered minor to serious injuries.
SUV passenger Derek Randall Thomas, 19, was pulled from the burning wreckage by Inyo County Sheriff’s Deputy Shane Scott. Thomas received third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body. His amazing recovery has made headlines in numerous West Coast media outlets, and now-Investigator Scott has become the most decorated officer in Inyo County history for his heroic efforts.
The crash report has been more than a year in the making, but as Cleland explained, there were so many details that MAIT wanted to include and the agencies involved wanted to make sure that the details were accurate and complete.
Cleland said the MAIT report is as concise as possible, but the unknown factors as to what caused Nield’s inattention will be worth “a lifetime of civil liability.”
Unfortunately, the true cause of the accident may never be known – what caused Nield to be distracted or inattentive. However, there are some lessons that can be gleaned from such a tragedy, Cleland explained.
“It’s such a horrible situation,” Cleland said. “I hope the general public can learn from these situations to drive within one’s experience and ability.”
He said these are situations that can happen to anyone, any day that can affect everyone.