Authorities were looking for the driver of a car that tried to pass a group of motorcycles and caused another car to lose control on a desert highway, triggering a crash that killed five people and injured six others, officials said.
Seven motorcyclists — members of a club celebrating its 10th anniversary — were ensnared in the collision on two-lane Route 98 near Ocotillo, a few miles north of the Mexico border and 80 miles east of San Diego.
Two men and two women motorcyclists died at the scene Saturday before paramedics arrived, Imperial County Fire Department Capt. Peter Stanton told The Associated Press. One passenger from a car was also killed.
The crash occurred shortly before 1 p.m. as an eastbound gold Honda Accord went into the oncoming lane to pass about a dozen motorcycles, some of them carrying two people, authorities said. That maneuver forced a westbound Dodge Avenger sedan to swerve on to the sandy shoulder to avoid a head-on collision.
Stanton said at that point the westbound car veered back across the road and into the cyclists.
"He lost control and then his vehicle just drove into the group of motorcycles," he said.
The Honda making the pass that triggered the accident was not damaged and did not stop.
"They're looking for that car and the driver," Stanton said. "He didn't stop, he kept going, he fled the scene."
Officials said the driver was a man in a baseball cap.
Two of the dead were a married couple riding the same bike and all four were part of the Saddle Tramps, a San Diego County club celebrating its anniversary with a ride across the desert, California Highway Patrol Officer Deann Goudie told several media outlets.
She said the group had met for breakfast in their hometown of Lakeside before leaving on the trip.
Five people from motorcycles and one from the car were injured, Stanton said. Several motorcycles toward the back of the pack were able to avoid the accident.
Two helicopters landed on the highway to airlift two male patients to San Diego-area hospitals, and four ambulances took patients to local hospitals in Brawley and El Centro, authorities said.
The identities of the dead and injured were not released.
Despite being just two lanes, the highway is heavily traveled as a link between Interstate 8 and Mexicali, Mexico.