James Byron Dead was 24 when he crashed his Porsche 550 Spyder almost head-on with another car driven by Donald Turnupseed, 30 miles east of Paso Robles. Dean was with his mechanic Rolph Wutherich on his way to a race meeting at Salinas, California. Turnupseed and Wuthdrich survived. Dean’s neck was broken.
Dean’s last words, having been warned to slow down, were: “That guy’s gotta stop… He’ll see us.” An investigation concluded that “excessive speed” had been a contributory factor in the accident. Other versions say Turnupseed had crossed onto Dean’s lane.
Turnupseed explained: “I didn’t see him coming.”
What happened to him was remarkable, and a sign of how life has changed:
On advise from la California Highway Patrol officer, Turnupseed hitch-hiked to Tulare after the crash. He was treated for a scraped nose and bruises at Tulare District Hospital. Extensive investigation of the accident never established guilt, said C.R. “Budgie” Sturgeon, a partner in Spuhler and Sturgeon Insurance, which had a policy on Turnupseed’s Ford. “It was never established whose fault it was. It just died.”
Rumours abounded that Dean had not died. He was living in a clinic, horribly disfigured and walking on false legs. True? No. But fans could not believe the essence of beautiful youth had died in so mundane a fashion. Death killed the man but made the legend.
Ron Nelson was a California Highway Patrol officer who saw the crash scene:
“Strange thing is, I had never heard of James Dean the actor before the accident. I thought maybe this was Jimmy Dean, the country singer.”
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.