SAN DIEGO — A driver who slammed into a group of motorcycle riders, killing four of them and his companion, has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, and police are looking for another driver who may have triggered the crash.
The motorcyclists were riding Saturday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their club when a driver in a gold Honda Civic passed them on a two-lane highway 80 miles east of San Diego. California Highway Patrol officer Deann Goudie said that maneuver forced an oncoming car off the road and then it veered back on and into the group.
She said authorities were looking for the Honda, which has California plates.
None of the motorcyclists got the license plate number of the Honda driver — described as a man wearing a baseball cap — and none of them pursued him, choosing to stay behind to help their friends.
"I was the first person on scene that had a uniform on," Goudie said Sunday. "I was being dragged in every direction by frantic people saying, 'Help this person, help that person.'"
Goudie said investigators on Monday would check surveillance video at a nearby border crossing to see if the driver went to Mexico.
Carlos Ramirez Bobadilla, 36, was arrested when officers smelled alcohol on his breath about five hours after the crash, Goudie said.
Ramirez, one of six injured in the collision, was recovering from hand fractures at a San Diego hospital, Goudie said.
It was 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. Results of a blood test were pending and not expected for about two weeks, she said.
Ramirez, of Mexicali, Mexico, swerved his white Dodge Avenger to the right shoulder of state Route 98 to avoid the Honda and then overcompensated by swinging left into oncoming traffic, Goudie said. Ramirez's speedometer was found 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."
Four motorcyclists and Ramirez's passenger were killed, authorities said.
The CHP withheld names of the five who died, pending notification of next of kin. They included a husband and wife who were on a motorcycle that was first to be struck.
A man who was driving a motorcycle behind the couple was struck next and died, Goudie said.
Ramirez turned and hit a third motorcycle, killing a woman who was riding on the back and injuring her husband, Wilson Trayer, 39, of Lakeside, Goudie said.
Trayer's motorcycle sliced into the front passenger door of the car Ramirez was driving, killing his companion, a 31-year-old Mexicali woman, Goudie said.
Carl Smith, president of the Lakeside-based Saddletramps Motorcycle Club, said three riders were seriously injured but expected to survive. Two others had less serious injuries.
William Barnes, 57, of San Diego suffered a punctured lung and broken hip and ankle and his wife, Melanie, 46, broke her pelvis and had a brain hemorrhage, Smith said. Trayer broke his pelvis, ribs, back and jaw, according to his daughter, Sierra.
"It's going to be a long recovery for the three of them," Smith said.
One of the injured — John Philip Lombardo, 55, of Lakeside, whose leg was hit by an ejected motorcyclist — was released from the hospital, Goudie said.
Another rider, Kelly Halley, 42, of Santee, had her spleen removed, Smith said.
Smith was leading the motorcycles and watched in his rearview mirror as Ramirez turned his sedan into oncoming traffic and struck the middle of the pack. There were 21 riders on about a dozen motorcycles.
The group met Saturday morning at Smith's Alpine home and had breakfast at a casino off Interstate 8.
"They were just going on a nice, leisurely ride in the desert because the weather's gorgeous now," Goudie said.
Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.