Jun 19

James Dean Death an Accident Jury Finds

James Dean accident 9-30-1955 at the intersection of Highway 41 and 446.Photo by Sanford Roth, courtesy Seita Ohnishi

I attended the 50th anniversary of the fatal crash September 30, 2005.
It was a surreal scene, replica cars, a James Dean impersonator and the actor’s fans arrived at the memorial in Cholame then drove to the remote intersection where the accident  took place.

Rick Young of Los Angeles closes one eye and tries to line up a photographic transparency of the James Dean accident with the hills above James Dean Junction. This was the 50th anniversary of the fatal crash. David Middlecamp 9-30-5

Fans walked along with little children on the busy highways trying to get closer to an icon who had died before many of them had been born. Dean had made only three movies and would become an icon in the years after the accident. One fan had made a transparency of the accident photo and tried to line it up with the hills. The actual accident site on September 30, 1955 is today a ranch field, the highway has been realigned for decades.

When the time of the accident was at hand a replica car drove west on Highway 46 to the junction with Highway 41. The low slung silver Porsche reflected the sky blending with the roadway, almost invisible to my eyes. Sunlight was almost straight in the Porsche driver’s eyes has the car came downhill to the anticipated relief of shade in the valley floor.

In today’s celebrity culture the story would have a more prominent piece of real estate on the front page. Mixed in on A-1 with 14 other stories,  weather, events calendar and a photo was the result of the investigation into the accident that killed James Dean.
The story contains an error, Donald G. Turnupseed was the driver of the car that collided with Dean’s.

Jury Finds

Dean Death


October 11, [1955]
PASO ROBLES,  Oct. 11– After deliberating only 24 minutes a verdict of “accidental death with no criminal intent” was returned in the coroner’s inquest into the death of movie star James Dean here this morning.
Returning the verdict was Don Orcutt Sr., foreman.
The Jury went out at 12:27p.m. to deliberate after hearing testimony of California highway patrolman O. Hunter of Bakersfield. Hunter made the arrest of Dean near Bakersfield on highway 99 for speeding at 3:30 p.m., two hours before the fatal accident occurred.
Hunter fixed the distance from the place where he had given Dean a speeding ticket to the intersection of highway 41 and 466 where the movie star collided with the car of Harold Turnupseed, 24-year-old Cal Poly student of Tulare, at 108 miles.
telegram-tribune-10-11-1955.JPGTom Frederick of Shandon told of driving in back of the Turnupseed car which was coming off highway 41.
Fredericks, a Shandon bee keeper and his brother-in-law, Donald Dooley, were traveling east when Turnupseed passed them at 60 miles an hour, the testimony brought out. Turnupseed slowed down to less than 40 miles an hour before he came to the intersection where the accident occurred.
Fredericks said that Turnupseed appeared to attempt to get out of the path of the oncoming sports car.
Dooley, who took the stand at his own request and Fredericks testified that Wuetherich had been the driver of the car. They said that Wuetherich had on a red tee shirt while Dean was wearing a white tee shirt.
Wuetherich, now in a Glendale hospital, is unable to speak English but his statements were taken through an interpreter the Rev. M.J. Galle of the First Mennonite church of Paso Robles.
Wuetherich said they had stopped at Blackwell’s corner for a soft drink and an apple while coming over 466 from Bakersfield. He said they stopped for Approximately 15 minutes.
According to the coroner’s inquest this fixed the speed of Dean’s car at 85 to 86 miles per hour.

You’ll have to look up the rest of the story on microfilm…it jumps to page 2 at this point.

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