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Report: Agency failed to follow procedures in off-road race crash

By Phil Gast, CNN
An August 14 crash in Southern California killed eight spectators.
An August 14 crash in Southern California killed eight spectators.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bureau of Land Management didn't follow own procedures, internal report says
  • Federal agency says it has taken steps to follow permitting procedures
  • Eight people died in crash during off-road event in Southern California

(CNN) -- The federal Bureau of Land Management said Friday that it had only one ranger on duty and that it failed to follow its own procedures in permitting an off-road race in Southern California where eight spectators were killed in a crash.

"This tragic accident was a call for us to take an unvarnished look at what went wrong and what BLM can do to improve safety and oversight of these types of races," said acting Bureau of Land Management State Director Jim Abbott.

Since the crash during an August 14 event in Johnson Valley, near San Bernardino, the agency has taken steps to ensure all approval procedures are carefully followed, it said in a statement.

The California Highway Patrol is leading the investigation into the incident, which left eight people dead and nine injured when a truck taking part in the 200-mile event crashed into a crowd of spectators along the track. The driver did not face charges, the highway patrol said at the time.

The Bureau of Land Management is investigating whether sanctioning body Mojave Desert Racing violated any safety regulations, spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian told CNN.

Since the crash, the agency has approved 20 permits from organizers for events across the California desert, Bedrosian said. Four were denied, and five from Mojave Desert Racing were suspended, she said.

Messages for Mojave Desert Racing were not immediately returned Friday.

Daniel Hesser, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol Inland Division, said the investigation is continuing and there was no timetable for submitting findings.

"We're talking to everyone we can," he said.

The August race was part of an amateur series on a course in the Lucerne Valley area of San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles. Mojave Desert Racing urges spectators to stay back 100 feet from the 50-mile course, but a Highway Patrol spokesman said there were "no delineations" for the course.

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

The bureau found its procedures for race events are appropriate, but said that offices did not always carry them out. "Adherence to these procedures was inconsistent throughout the five BLM field offices in the 11-million acre California Desert," it said in a statement.

There was no pre-race review or detailed look at the August race's operating plan, Bedrosian said.

And only one ranger was on duty.

"Obviously, the one was not adequate that night," Bedrosian said, adding that some events now are being staffed by three to five federal rangers.

The department has only 38 rangers in the desert and is "spread awfully thin," Bedrosian said. But it is committed to permitting and staffing events to ensure they are conducted in a safe manner, she added,

Bob Abbey, national director of the Bureau of Land Management, said that a directive to field offices stresses event safety.

"If our field offices cannot fulfill or complete all the required steps in authorizing this event, then no permit will be issued," he said.

The report concludes with specific action items. These include providing adequate Bureau of Land Management ranger and recreation staffing at all events, requiring companies to compensate the bureau for processing and administering permits that take up more than 50 hours of staff time, and requiring more oversight from the bureau's district and state offices to check for policy compliance and program consistency.

"Everyone looks at this with a shared sense we all need to do better," Bedrosian said.