LOS ANGELES — A fiery car crash north of Los Angeles has killed 40-year-old Paul Walker, the star of the “Fast & Furious” movie series, and one other person in the vehicle.
According to a law enforcement bulletin, “Sheriff’s deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station responded to a report of a traffic collision at approximately 3:30PM in the 28300 block of Rye Canyon Loop, Valencia, on Saturday, November 30, 2013.”
Upon arrival, officers found the vehicle involved “engulfed in flames,” which Los Angeles County firemen extinguished and “subsequently located two victims inside the vehicle. The victims were pronounced dead at the scene.”
Walker was later identified as one of the victims. The Santa Clarita Valley Signal reported that Walker’s vehicle, a Porsche, crashed into a light pole and tree and burst into flames. The Sheriff’s Department said that speed was a factor in the crash.
According to the Los Angeles Times, witnesses to the crash said “the car was fully engulfed in fire.”
“When I went out there, it was just smoke. Just black smoke. I thought it was a brush fire,” Alyssa Yorton told the Los Angeles Daily News. “It was engulfed in flames. There was nothing. They were trapped,” she said.
According to a web report on SignalsCV, “Antonio Holmes, who said he was a friend of Walker’s, “said the Porsche appeared to hit a tree and then slam into a light standard. KTLA News reported that debris from the crash shattered a window in a nearby building.”
Walker’s publicist Ame Van Iden confirmed the actor’s death in an e-mail to Fox News Saturday evening. A statement on Walker’s Facebook page said he was a passenger in a friend’s car, and that Walker was in the area to attend a charity event for his organization Reach Out Worldwide, founded to help mount rapid response missions for victims of sudden disasters.
The fundraiser, to benefit Filipino victims of Typhoon Haiyan, took place at a nearby racecar shop. Attendees reportedly rushed to put out the flames with available fire extinguishers, but to no avail.
According to Fox, initially “the Los Angeles County Coroner told KTTV’s Kevin Takumi that dental records would be needed to formally identify the bodies.” The Los Angeles Daily News later identified the driver as Roger Rodas, 38, a former race car driver.
“All of us at Universal are heartbroken,” Universal Pictures, which has released the “Fast & Furious” franchise, said in a statement. “Paul was truly one of the most beloved and respected members of our studio family for 14 years, and this loss is devastating to us, to everyone involved with the ‘Fast and Furious’ films, and to countless fans.”
Walker’s “Fast & Furious” co-star Vin Diesel posted a photograph of him and Walker arm-in-arm on Instagram with the message: “Brother I will miss you very much. I am absolutely speechless.”
As ex-cop Brian O’Conner, Walker rode the “Fast & Furious” franchise to stardom, starring in all but one of the six action blockbusters, beginning with the first film in 2001. The blond, blue-eyed Los Angeles-native brought classic California surfer good looks and an easy, warm charm to the popular street-racing series.
The son of a fashion model and a sewer contractor, Walker grew up in a working class, Mormon household in Glendale, California. The oldest of five siblings, Walker began his show business career early when his mother began taking him to auditions as a toddler. He was a child model beginning at the age of 2.
After a string of TV roles as a child in the ‘80s, including small roles on “Who’s the Boss” and “Charles in Charge,” Walker made his feature film debut in the 1998 comedy “Meet the Deedles.” Supporting roles in the films “Pleasantville,” ”Varsity Blues” and “Flags of Our Fathers” followed.
His performance in the 2000 thriller “The Skulls” caught the eye of producer Neal H. Moritz, who cast him in “The Fast and the Furious” as undercover police officer Brian O’Conner. Adapted from a Vibe magazine article about underground street races, the film became an unexpected hit.
In the sequel, “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Walker moved to center stage with Diesel temporarily dropping out. Walker, a self-described “gearhead,” acquired his character’s sports car from that film.
Walker starred in other films, including the crime thriller “Running Scared,” the Antarctic adventure “Eight Below” and the heist film “Takers.” Though his stardom didn’t make as much of an impact outside the “Fast & Furious” series, Walker continually drew praise from his co-stars and directors as a kind-hearted and eager collaborator.
“Your humble spirit was felt from the start,” tweeted Ludacris, Walker’s “Fast & Furious” co-star. “Wherever you blessed your presence you always left a mark, we were like brothers.”
The “Fast & Furious” series has proved to be an unexpectedly enduring franchise. Released this past May, “Fast & Furious 6,” the series’ latest installment, was the most lucrative of them all, grossing more than $788 million worldwide. The seventh installment began shooting in September, with a release planned for July. The film’s production was on break with more shooting to be done.
Walker’s film presence will still be felt over the next year. He is one of the stars in the upcoming Hurricane Katrina drama “Hours,” which Lionsgate’s Pantelion Films is to release on Dec. 13. He also stars in “Brick Mansions,” a remake of the French action film “District B13.” That film is currently in post-production for its scheduled 2014 release.
Bill Townsend, a friend of Walker’s who attended the Typhoon Haian fundraiser Saturday, told AP Radio, “He was very happy. He was smiling at everybody, just tickled that all these people came out to support this charity. He was doing what he loved. He was surrounded by friends, surrounded by cars.”
Walker is survived by his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow, who reportedly witnessed the crash.
—AP contributed to this report
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