Originally published November 15, 2010 at 7:05 a.m., updated November 15, 2010 at 10:55 a.m.
Investigators searched Monday for a second motorist after determining a suspected drunken driver whose car slammed into a group of motorcyclists, killing five people and injuring five others, was not at fault for the Imperial County crash, authorities said.
Carlos Ramirez Bobadilla, 36, of Mexicali, Mexico, was arrested Saturday at a hospital for investigation of misdemeanor drunken driving, but he was not booked into a jail. He was technically released from custody on Sunday, although he remained hospitalized in San Diego with a fractured head and leg and a scalp laceration, California Highway Patrol Officer DeAnn Goudie said.
"He was coming out of surgery and an officer thought he smelled a faint odor of alcohol on his person" about five hours after the crash, Goudie said. "He was never physically booked and handcuffed. He was just in his hospital bed."
Bobadilla still might face DUI charges if tests determine his blood-alcohol level exceeded the legal limit, but he was not considered at fault for the deadly crash, Goudie said.
Investigators planned to check surveillance video at a nearby border crossing to see if the driver of a gold Honda Civic believed responsible for the crash fled into Mexico, Goudie said.
The driver was trying to pass the line of motorcycles on two-lane, state Route 98 about 80 miles east of San Diego but lacked clearance to get back into the right lane and wound up driving head-on toward Bobadilla's car, Goudie said.
Bobadilla's white Dodge Avenger veered onto the right shoulder but he over-corrected to the left and smashed into the motorcycle group head-on, Goudie said.
"He was just trying to avoid (the other car). It's not his fault," she said.
"He's a victim, just like us," Carl Smith, president of the Lakeside-based Saddletramps Motorcycle Club, told the Los Angeles Times.
Smith said the group was on a desert outing for its 10th anniversary. He was leading the motorcycles and watched in his rearview mirror as Bobadilla struck the middle of the pack. There were 21 riders on about a dozen motorcycles.
Three riders were seriously injured but were expected to survive while two had less serious injuries, he said.
Smith told the San Diego Union-Tribune it took at least a half-hour for paramedics to arrive because the site was in the remote Imperial Valley.
"It seemed like an eternity," he said. "I was giving CPR to one that still had a chance to no avail. There were some that were dismembered that there was no hope for."
John Lombardo, 55, of Lakeside, who was treated for a leg injury and released, said the crash was like a bomb going off.
"The other car, all I remember is seeing that thing skidding right at us, and I thought, I'm dead," Lombardo told the Union-Tribune.
Bobadilla's speedometer was found stuck at 60 mph, 5 mph below the speed limit, Goudie said.
A motorcyclist reported the gold Honda appeared to be traveling around 95 mph, she added.
None of the motorcyclists got the California license plate number of the Honda and none chased it, instead choosing to stay behind to help their friends.
The accident killed Bobadilla's passenger, 31-year-old Ana Lilia Gonzalez of Mexicali, Mexico. Four motorcycle riders also died. They were identified as George William Miller, 57, of Ramona; Tonya Beth Trayer, 37, of El Cajon; Lance Allen Heath, 43, of Alpine; and his wife, Amy Heath, 36, of Alpine.
In addition to Lombardo, four other people were injured.