Crash Kills 3 San Diego State Athletes

Times Staff Writer

Three athletes were killed and 10 others injured when a van carrying the San Diego State University rowing club had a blowout and crashed in the San Joaquin Valley near Santa Nella, a California Highway Patrol spokesman said Monday.

The van, carrying the students home from a meet near Sacramento, was traveling on Interstate 5 at about 85 m.p.h. at 8:20 p.m. Sunday, when the left rear tire blew out, according to the California Highway Patrol. The driver, Joseph Farrage, 19, lost control of the van, which rolled over several times and caught fire, said Doyne Cates of the Highway Patrol. All but two of those aboard were thrown from the van, including the three who died.

Derek Christopher Guelker, 18, of Orange; Mark Andrew Skinner, 19, of San Diego, and James Marshall O’Hara, 20, of Englewood, Colo., were pronounced dead at the scene by Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, a passing motorist who identified himself to the Highway Patrol as a physician at UCLA Medical Center.


“They were all terrific people, well-rounded students,” said crew coach Chuck Datte, who was not in the van.

The injured were reported in satisfactory condition Monday night at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto. They were identified as Liz Ciarrochi, 20; Brian Eliel, 21; Jeff Moorehouse, 19; Mark Starkey, 22, and Dan Wright, 19. Ciarrochi is a rower on the University of San Diego crew. The others are on the San Diego State University team.

Five others, including Farrage, were treated for cuts and bruises at local hospitals and released.

Minutes before the accident, a CHP officer had spotted the van from the opposite side of the freeway and was turning around to pursue the speeding vehicle when he saw “a cloud of dust” where the van had left the roadway, Cates said.

San Diego State University President Thomas B. Day said the school’s administration was “very saddened” by the incident.

Because crew is a “club” sport at San Diego State, unaffiliated with the school’s athletic department, team members must provide their own funding and their own transportation to meets. The van involved in the accident was leased from a Mission Valley firm.