Friday the thirteenth — Good Friday in April. 1979 — dawned hot and clear over Baja California, and was hotter still by late morning or noon, when Eddie Duenez and Mike Askey pulled into Punta Prieta to join an untidy knot of humanity waiting at the Pemex station for a tanker to come and replenish pumps already drained by the early wave of long-weekend travelers. Duenez, in his nearly new, black, four-wheel-drive Toyota mini-truck with its chromed roll bar and angular swashes of orange forming Nike-like abstract flames along the sides, is ahead of Askey’s fancy van. The two of them have been fighting the monotony of the road and the mounting heat with nicely chilled beer for hours already, ever since leaving their week-long campsite at Mulege, some 340 miles to the south, at 6:30 a.m. All morning the two have been gradually pulling away from their friends — other district counselors of the San Diego school system — who were also encamped at Mulege but who are driving much slower Volkswagen campers. Askey and Duenez, thinking the improbable, still believe they may get far enough by nightfall to make it all the way to the USA in one day’s drive.
Some time has already been lost to socializing. An hour or so earlier they’d stopped to let Askey’s eleven-year-old nephew, Myron Woods, get out of the van to switch places with Eddie Duenez’s neighbor, Karla. On the road to Punta Prieta, Myron’s wish to sample the four-wheel ride was granted as Duenez took the Toyota off the asphalt and onto the bouncy dirt road alongside it, bringing up a smile to Myron’s face and a dust cloud for the trailing Askey to drive through.
But even before that ride was to occur, before the trip could resume, up drove Disco Mulege, which is how Askey and Duenez came to refer to a band of revelers who’d camped alongside the district counselors and their families. Hard to ignore Disco Mulege, their parachute spread above the beach on four posts, forming a sun shelter by day and an Arabian pleasure dome by night, with strobes flashing to the stereo dance beat. As Disco Mulege bounced to a halt alongside them, Askey and Duenez delayed the last leg of the drive to Punta Prieta for a scheduled gas stop. By the time they did re-embark for Punta Prieta, Eddie had added a couple of shots of Disco Mulege’s Cuervo Gold to the beer he’d already consumed.
“No sooner did we get in line to wait for gas than the same people drive up and get in line. Now, they were going to Bahia de Los Angeles, and that’s where they were going to turn off. I was about the fourth car in line. We were stuck there a good hour, maybe more. I’m not sure. We had the music going and it was hot and we were a little buzzed from the tequila and the beer. I remember the tanker truck coming and filling up the pumps, and the gas station guy giving us the okay to start filling up, and then filling up. I remember pulling away from the pump and driving behind the station to wait for Mike to get his gas. I think we continued to party a bit behind the station. I know while we were in line we continued to drink. It was a large group, we were dancing in the parking lot. We were screwed up, dancing to the music drinking tequila and waiting for the gas.
“I vaguely remember Mike driving up behind the station and talking window-to-window with him. But’s hard to remember much about this because, you know, once you get high you just ramble and we weren’t talking about things you’d be likely to remember — just, you know, where our next stop would be, did Myron want to stay with me — I’m sure we probably talked about how much time had gone by and that we had to fly and then, it was just, ‘Les’ go!’ I do remember leaving the gas station and looking to my left and to my right and taking off. That’s pretty much the last thing I remember.”
‘‘Well, right outside of Punta Prieta it’s straight. The whole shot for quite a ways you can go as fast as you can go. There are potholes, but it’s better to speed, ’cause if you go fast you can fly over the holes before your wheels bottom out. So we flew. It was low-level aviation shit, I mean gettin’ down. We were going so fast I began to think. Oh shit, we’re going too fuckin’ fast, this sucker is getting too far down the road too fast. . . Vaaa-roooooom. We were probably doing, oh, better than seventy, maybe eighty. It seemed like there was hardly no time from the time we left Punta Prieta to the point of the accident, and the next day when we re-drove it, it seemed longer than the day of the accident.
‘‘Earlier, when we were coming into Punta Prieta, I guess Ed had decided to give Myron a little thrill and he’d gotten off the main road and onto the dirt road. He didn’t go real fast, but he was doin’ okay because the road at that point is level and straight, he was just driving down a dirt road. Anyway, after Punta Prieta we were doing about seventy or eighty and there was this same little parallel dirt road alongside, I think where the old highway used to be, because it runs the whole length of the other. At first I thought he was doing it again, just wanted to pull off onto the dirt road, because I saw the dust cloud again up ahead only about 200 yards. No sooner had I thought that than I realized he had rolled the truck over. You see, the road is straight, and then all of a sudden he just shoots off to the left in a cloud of dust.