James Byron Deadn 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. Turnupseeed 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.”