THE DEATH OF JAMES DEAN
AS SEEN IN:
"James Dean: Race With Destiny"
AS PLAYED BY:
James Dean: Casper Van Diem
Rolf Wutherich: Unknown
Donald Turnipseed: Dale Gibson
[James] Dean was driving west on U.S. Route 466 (later State Route 46) near Cholame, California, when a black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe, driven from the opposite direction by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, moved to take the fork onto State Route 41 and crossed into Dean's lane. The two cars hit almost head-on.
According to a story in the October 1, 2005, edition of the Los Angeles Times, California Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson and his partner had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles, when they were called to the scene of the accident, where they saw an unconscious, heavily breathing Dean being placed into an ambulance. Paramedics were attending to Wütherich who had been thrown from the car and was lying on the shoulder of the road next to the mangled Porsche Spyder barely concious, but survived with a broken jaw and other injuries.
Dean was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:59 p.m. by the attending emergency room physician. His last known words, uttered right before impact when Wütherich told Dean to slow down when they saw the Ford coup in front of them about to drive into their lane, were said to have been: "That guy's gotta stop... He'll see us."
According to the postmortem, it is believed that Dean's head struck the front grill of the other car. This impact and the accompanying crash resulted in Dean suffering a broken neck, plus multiple fractures of the jaw, arms and legs, as well as massive internal injuries. He is believed to have died around 10 minutes after the crash upon examination in the ambulance. For years, there were rumors a photographer friend, traveling to the race in another car, took photos of Dean trapped in the car dead or dying. Such photos never surfaced in public.
Contrary to reports of Dean's speeding, which persisted decades after his death, Nelson said "the wreckage and the position of Dean's body indicated his speed was more like 55 mph (88 km/h)." Turnupseed received a gashed forehead and bruised nose and was not cited by police for the accident. He was interviewed by the Tulare Advance-Register newspaper immediately following the crash, saying that he had not seen Dean's car approaching, but after that, refused to ever again speak publicly about the accident. He went on to own and operate an electrical contracting business and died of lung cancer in 1995. Wütherich died in a road accident in Germany in 1981 after surviving several suicide attempts.