Death Following Baja Off-Road Race Crash Spurs Lawsuit

RENO, Nev. (CN) – The family of a Florida man who was injured in a 2016 head-on collision while driving in the Score Baja 1000 off-road race in Mexico and died days later of a heart attack sued the race organizers on Friday, blaming his death on a defectively designed section of the racetrack.

In their 17-page wrongful death complaint filed in Washoe County state court, Mark Luhtala’s wife and two children said the dangerous section at mile marker 598 of that year’s 854-mile loop course on the Baja California Peninsula forced participants to drive in opposite directions and permitted dangerous pit stops on the left side.

At about 4 a.m. on Nov.  19, 2016, Luhtala “was proceeding at mile marker 598 in the dark, in the direction of the racecourse configuration, when race driver Cody Parkhouse simultaneously proceeded from the opposite direction and collided head-on” into the truck driven by Luhtala, the family says in the complaint.

The complaint further states that Parkhouse crossed from the right to the left side of the track to enter his pit stop on the left side when the collision occurred.

Luhtala’s family say organizers apparently determined that the section of the course in the mountains was “impassable and therefore re-routed the course from uni-directional to bi-directional” and failed to properly inform drivers of the design modifications, which also included left-side pit stops.

Luhtala, 48, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, died of a heart attack four days after the collision while recovering at a San Diego hospital after having part of his left leg amputated, according to news reports.

He was a pilot, airplane mechanic and award-winning airplane restorer, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Named defendants are Promote Mexico LLC, with its principal place of business in Nevada, and Score International. The complaint identifies Promote Mexico as the parent company and alter ego of Score International.

Luhtala’s wife, Holly, and two children also claim the race organizers failed to provide Luhtala with prompt paramedic treatment and an airlift to a hospital for immediate care, with the delay contributing to his death. Organizers told drivers that such medical attention would be available, the plaintiffs say.

Luhtala was “left untreated for six hours in the desert crushed inside his vehicle, profusely bleeding out, with no medical assistance,” the family says in the lawsuit.

Reno attorney Peter Mazzeo and attorney Craig Goldenfarb of West Palm Beach, Florida, represent the plaintiffs.

Score International did not immediately respond to an email request for comment late Friday afternoon.

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