5 Dead, 6 Hurt in Desert Pile-up

A serious motorcycle accident in the Imperial Valley kills four San Diegans

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC San Diego

    Police have made one arrest but are still searching for the driver who caused a deadly head-on collision in the Imperial Valley desert, taking the lives of five people including four San Diegans who were celebrating their motorcycle club's 10th anniversary.

    Carlos Rodriguez Bobadilla, 36, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after he was forced off the road by an oncoming vehicle and slammed head-on into a group of motorcycle riders, according to the California Highway Patrol.

    Deadly Crash Kills 5

    [DGO] Deadly Crash Kills 5
    A group of 12 motorcyclists were traveling in the Imperial Valley when they were struck by a car. (Published Sunday, Nov 14, 2010)

    Rodriguez swerved his white Dodge Avenger to the right shoulder to avoid the Honda and then overcompensated by swinging left into oncoming traffic, Goudie said. His speedometer was stuck at 60 mph, 5 mph below the speed limit.

    "It would have been nice if he had just gone off to the right," she said. "He would have been stuck in the soft sand."

    It is unclear if the driver's alleged alcohol consumption contributed to the collision, Goudie said, but he was arrested on a misdemeanor and is not being held responsible for the deaths based on evidence collected so far.

    The names of the deceased have not been released pending notification of next of kin.

    Officials say Wilson Trayer, 39, from Lakeside; Kelly Halley, 42, from Santee; William Barnes, 57, from San Diego; and Melanie Barnes, 46, from San Diego; were all transported to UCSD with major injuries.

    Another motorcyclist, John Lombardo, 55, from Lakeside, was taken to the El Centro Regional Medical Center with minor injuries and later released.

    The crash happened on Saturday around 1 p.m. on State Route 98 near Ocotillo, a few miles north of the Mexico border and 80 miles east of San Diego.

    A group of 21 motorcyclists were participating in a group ride to celebrate their motorcycle club's 10th anniversary, the president of Saddletramps Motorcycle Club said. The driver of a gold Honda behind the group got frustrated and decided to pass the group in his car, according to officials.

    Club president Carl Smith estimates the Honda was going about 95 mph when it veered into the opposite lane on the small two-lane highway and almost hit an oncoming Dodge Avenger head-on.

    The driver of the Avenger tried to avoid the collision and move on the shoulder, when officers said he lost control and crashed into the motorcycle group.

    The driver of the Honda did not stop.

    Two of the dead were a married couple riding the same bike, Goudie said. The couple was the first to be hit.

    A man who was driving a motorcycle behind the couple was struck next and died, Goudie said.

    Rodriguez turned and hit a third motorcycle, killing a woman who was riding on the back and injuring her husband, Wilson Trayer, 39, of Lakeside, said Goudie.

    Trayer's motorcycle sliced 18 inches into the front passenger door of the Dodge that Rodriguez was driving, killing Rodriguez's companion, a 31-year-old Mexicali woman who owned the car, Goudie said.

    "The vehicle that was passing the motorcyclists was just looking directly in front of his hood," said CHP Officer Wes Boerner. "If he'd been looking down the road a piece, he would have realized there was oncoming vehicle. The visual distance out here is about half a mile so there is really no reason for him not to see the car coming."

    Some of the victims were in a motorcycle club called Saddletramps, based in Lakeside. According to police, the four that died were members of the group and were from Lakeside, El Cajon and Alpine.

    They had planned to spend the night at the Quechan Casino Resort in Winterhaven, near the Arizona state line.

    "They were just going on a nice, leisurely ride in the desert because the weather's gorgeous now," she said.

    The group met Saturday morning at the Alpine home of its president, James Carl Smith, and went for breakfast at the Golden Acorn Casino off Interstate 8 in Boulevard, Goudie said.

    The female passenger in the Dodge Avenger also died in the crash.

    Rodriguez, of Mexicali, Mexico, was arrested after officers smelled alcohol on his breath about five hours after the crash, according to California Highway Patrol Officer DeeAnn Goudie. Results of a blood test were pending. He was recovering from hand fractures at a San Diego hospital.

    None of the motorcyclists got the license plate of the Honda driver -- described as a man wearing a baseball cap. No one pursued him, choosing to stay behind to attend to their friends.