More than a year after a fiery wreck on U.S. 395 injured more than a dozen people and killed four others including three San Diegans, the California Highway Patrol has completed its investigation.
San Diego teenager Natalie Nield was speeding when the SUV she was driving crossed into oncoming traffic Aug. 9, 2010 according to CHP officials.
Witnesses described the horror as the Ford Expedition driven by Nield began rolling, head on into a van packed with college athletes traveling in the opposite direction on U.S. 395.
Investigators said Nield was driving southbound at a minimum of 85 mph when she came upon two big rigs, one passing the other and occupying both lanes of traffic said CHP Officer Dennis Cleland.
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In order to avoid slamming into the back of a big rig, Nield went on the right shoulder of the highway. She then steered left, then right causing an unrecoverable slide across the center divide Cleland said.
Once the Expedition started rolling, it caught fire and was on its right side when it struck a Ford E-350 van traveling in the opposite direction.
Cal Baptist University student Marisa Benson was in the cross-country team van driven by cheer leading coach Wendy Rice, 35, heading up U.S. 395 from Riverside County to Mammoth for high altitude training.
"I just remember a flash," said Benson who was sitting one row behind the driver.
"And then I woke up and I was two inches from Wendy's seat," Benson recalled last May. "My window was blown out, I could reach out, I could feel the heat from the fire."
Benson was trapped behind Rice. "I could hear the way she was breathing, she was dying," Benson said.
When Nield's SUV crashed into Rice's van, the collision caused an explosion. The SUV was fully engulfed and landed on its roof according to CHP investigators.
It took firefighters nearly 20 minutes to cut through the roof and extricate Benson from the van. Other team members suffered burns, cuts and bruises.
Rice died at the scene, as did recent Cathedral Catholic High School graduates Nield and Amanda Post, 18.
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San Diego trainer John Adams, 39, died a few months later from severe burns all over his body.
Post's boyfriend and fellow Cathedral graduate Derek Thomas, 19, was also severely burned along with USD soccer player Drew Delis, 22.
Benson's right leg was shattered in the collision.
Investigators released the results of the investigation to the victims and their families before making the results public Tuesday.