SUV wreckage lies in the foreground with the damaged van further north.

A recently released California Highway Patrol Report on a fiery crash south of Bishop last August says that the 17-year-old driver of an SUV, driving a minimum of 85 miles per hour, was unable to slow down when she rapidly approached two big rigs in both southbound lanes.  Her evasive moves after that led to an explosive crash that involved two other vehicles in northbound 395 and left three dead. The CHP says they believe the young driver was distracted, but they will never know by what.

Sierra Wave had reported the details of this CHP Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Teams (MAIT) report last week, based on an article in the Los Angeles Times.  We have since spoken to Bishop CHP Public Information Officer Dennis Cleland.  He verified that Natalie Nield, 17, came up fast on two southbound big rigs in both lanes the night of August 9, 2010.  With her minimum speed at a calculated 85 mph, Cleland said, “She came on them quick, was distracted by something we will never know and went off to the right shoulder.”

Cleland said that Nield tried to get back on the roadway, overcorrected and went into a lateral slide across the southbound lanes, over the center divider and into the northbound lanes.  Cleland said Nield started to roll over during that sequence.  “Her vehicle caught on fire,” he said, “and landed on its right side.”  The SUV collided with a van driven by California Baptist University cheer-leading coach, Wendy Rice, 35, of Corona.  The van carried a dozen cross-country team students headed for high altitude training in Mammoth.  The students and coach in Nield’s car were headed home from high altitude track training in Mammoth Lakes.

Cleland said that the collision compromised the fuel tank and Nield’s vehicle exploded into flames and shot the van around in a clockwise motion.  At that point, a young woman driving a Subaru ran into the front of the van.

The accident killed Wendy Rice in the van and two people in the SUV – Nield and Amanda Post, 18. Track trainer, John Adams, 39, died later in the ICU at Renown Medical Center in Reno.  Adams was a close friend of Mammoth Lakes Recreation Director, Stuart Brown. Many others in this tragic accident were seriously injured.

19-year-old Derek Thomas, also in the SUV, suffered third degree burns over 85% of his body and was only recently released from a southland hospital. Drew Dellis, 22, also suffered serious injuries. The teens and coach in the SUV were from the Carlsbad area.

Officer Cleland said that he hopes all will learn from this accident.  He said while it’s unclear what caused Nield’s inattention or distraction, anything is possible.  “Even talking to a passenger can cause a problem,” said Cleland.  “We all need to learn to drive within our abilities,” he said.  Cleland is personally involved in this effort to train young drivers.  Through the CHP, he is conducting StartSmart programs at local high schools.

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