CHP confirms new details on last August’s fiery wreck


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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16 Responses to CHP confirms new details on last August’s fiery wreck

  1. Wayne Deja October 31, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    Kind of a touchy one here,with multiple victims in different vehicles,and with a growing dis-taste by many for frivolous lawsuits brought on by so many now-days,I think this one might warrent such action.The southbound van driven by the 17 year old student,with at least one grown adult coach as a passenger was a BIG mistake…especially if it were traveling in excess of 85 MPH.A 17 year old student driver had no business driving an SUV packed with students,and at least one experienced driver as passengers.The story states the driver was distracted by something….probably those two big rigs ahead of her traveling the speed limit,and not enough time to brake for them without losing control,and causing this terrible accident.Only one thing makes for a safe driver,and that is experience behind the wheel.If I ,or a family member were victims of this accident,INCLUDING the victims in the SUV that caused the accident,I would look into a lawsuit against the school that allowed the 17 year old to be the driver,and allowing her to be traveling at such a high rate of speed….as well as allowing these minors to be traveling without seatbelts in place….THAT is up to the adults to make sure laws are not being ignored.Adult supervision is a must on these long distance road trips.For their safety….and the safety of the people that live up here and travel HWY.395 on a regular basis.

  2. Maggie's Mommy October 31, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see in the article (or any of the previous articles) where it states that they were not wearing seatbelts.

    I agree that lack of experience is one of the main causes of many traffic accidents. However, even the most experienced driver can be distracted and get in a collision. It is up to each driver, no matter how much time they have behind the wheel, to be focused on what they are doing, playing complete attention to the roadway. It is often not what you are doing that causes the accident but you not being prepared to drive defensively and react to what other drivers do.

  3. Wayne Deja October 31, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    Maggie’s Mommy…..Not the kind of story,or article I am going to get into a “hot debate”with,but from what I have heard,not all the passengers were wearing seatbelts…As far as what you said about even experienced drivers being distracted and causing,or unable to avoid a traffic collision because of a distraction,this is true.But I put myself in the place of the victim’s families….before the accident.If I had a son or daughter going on a 400+ mile trip with other students AND adults,I wouldn’t want to be thinking a 17 year old student would be doing the driving…and doing it at 85 MPH plus on a highway that is known state-wide to be a dangereous one.I would like to think the adult,or adults in the vehicle ,if they weren’t doing the driving,would at least insist on keeping the driver at a safe rate of speed…Like CHP Officer Cleland states,”We all need to drive within our abilities”. 85+ MPH is not a safe speed to be driving on a highway where there is lot of vehicle and big-rig traffic….which HWY.395 happens to be.

  4. Big Rick O'Brien November 2, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    No way in HELL should there have been a 17 yr. old at the wheel, entrusted with the lives of everyone in that van, PERIOD!

    • Roy November 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

      The 17 year old was driving the Ford Explorer not the van with all the passengers..

      • Wayne Deja November 4, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

        The Ford Explorer carried at least 3 people…..INCLUDING an adult.

      • Big Rick O'Brien November 4, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

        And the explorer had no survivors…

        • Marfin April 21, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

          Derek Thomas would protest to that.

  5. sierragrl November 4, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    Unfortunately, the attorney’s will look for the deep pockets, which is Caltrans. All they have to do is find any one thing that was exactly kosher as far as the highway goes, and they will get millions. I don’t like it, but that’s how things work. As far as a 17 yo driving, it happens all the time without results like these, so get over it. She made a mistake and she and many others paid for it with their lives. But the fact is, many times every day a 17 yo drives down that road, often with others in the car. As far as I know, it was not a school vehicle and possibly not a school sanctioned trip. I don’t like the fact that trucks in california can only go 55 while the speed limit for the rest of us is 65. I’ve driven across country a few times and most states do not have that built in conflict. Trucks are allowed to go as fast as the other vehicles. Simple lesson here, if you’re driving fast, you have to pay attention!

  6. Justin Case November 5, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    sierragrl…..I don’t think this is a “get over it” kind of situation. The point being made is not that the girl was hanging out with friends and had this accident but that she was in a school field trip and caused this accident. If it wasn’t a “school sanctioned trip” then why would she have been in Mammoth with her coach. They all lived in Carlsbad, pretty sure that would have opened up a whole different can of worms for minors to be that far away from home with a school official on a non school sanctioned trip. Regardless though I believe the point being made here is that the coach should have been driving. It was reckless to allow a child to drive any vehicle. school owned or not, on a school trip. I have children and as a parent would be mortified to find out a teacher allowed my child to hold other lives in her hands especiallly on a trip that far, on a highway with so much truck traffic as we have, in the dark. I have 20 plus years driving experience and have trouble driving that highway at night, expecting a 17 year old child with essentially no experience is just plain irresponsible. And yes people paid with their lives for this one poor decision. Making a comment like “just get over it” only shows insensitivity to the situation and the survivors of this horrific accident. The mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children etc who had to bury their dead will never get over it. The police, firemen and rescue personnel will never get over it. Learn from it, talk about it and make sure you never make the same decision is what should be done. But get over it….NEVER

    • sierragrl November 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

      justin, I was not suggesting that people should just get ove a horrific accident…who could do so? I was saying quit harping on the fact a 17 yo was driving. the only logic infered by harping on her age is that 17 yo people should not drive down that road, and that my friend, is illogical. they do all the time without this result. I beleive it was her parents car…why would her coach drive her parent’s car? What would people be harping about had she not been 17? Speed I think…so harp that.

      • Rob November 7, 2011 at 7:56 am #

        @ Sierragrl Why would her coach drive her parents car?

        So the most experienced driver was behind the wheel to insure everyone returned home safely.

        I would have no problem handing my car keys to an adult coach before I let my 17 year old drive a car load of people from Southern California to Mammoth and back.

    • Wayne Deja November 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

      Also in Sierragrl”s post says Caltrans will be the one getting sued if there is a lawsuit…..Doubt that will happen…If anyone gets hit with a lawsuit,it will be either the insurance company of the SUV that caused the accident,and/or,if that SUV’s owner was indeed the property of the Carlsbads school’s coach,and allowing a minor to drive way over the legal speed limit,in his vehicle,at a school’s sanctioned trip,the school,or the school district will be the one that gets hit with the suit..

      • Big AL February 7, 2012 at 1:18 am #

        Also in Sierragrl”s post says Caltrans will be the one getting sued if there is a lawsuit…..Doubt that will happen…

        Bet that will happen, it happens all the time. The state has deep pockets and attorneys know this. The state is usually either the first considered, or one of the first considered when deciding who to sue.

        It’s no wonder this state is going broke, one of the biggest drains is paying off lawsuits in all departments, while Cal trans has a fair share given that it is a big target for lawyers.

        I feel Sierragrl is right about all of the harping about the girls age and whether she should have been driving. While her age didn’t really impact this accident as much as her fault for speeding, and being inattentive did.

        I would maybe say, she might not have been driving, based on her performance that night, and it obviously points to that observation. I wouldn’t have based it on her age.

        Many teen aged kids drive the road at any given time, some probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel, while others prove themselves worthy of this task. My daughter when she was that age was one of those worthy to drive a motor vehicle, she drove, and continues to drive responsibly.

        We can say the thing about adults of all ages, some need not have a license to operate a motor vehicle, then you have the rest of us, some do OK, some do good. Like anything in life.

  7. JJ November 7, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Please show some respect for all these families.

  8. brothert February 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    your speculations incorrectly fill in the gaps. they are square pegs to the story’s round holes.


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