LISTEN: How James Dean crash affected the community where it happened

Sep 30, 2015

Wednesday marks 60 years to the day since Hollywood legend James Dean lost his life on a rural San Luis Obispo County highway.

The actor's classic film, Rebel Without a Cause, was released one month after his fatal crash on what is now Highway 46, about a half-hour's drive east of Paso Robles near the small town of Cholame.

Adjacent to the Jack Ranch Cafe is a simple roadside memorial wrapped around a large tree. This stainless steel marker with the actor's vital statistics and some separate plaques with history of the event are situated about a half mile west of the actual crash site.

The roadway itself has been realigned, so its nearly impossible to tell where Dean's car truly landed on that Friday evening in 1955.

Steve Weaver and his family stopped on their way from Fresno to Pismo Beach on Sunday to remember the star, who many believe, died too young.

"Think of the Films he would have made, had he lived," said Warner.

His father Joe Weaver remembers media coverage of the incident, specifically reports about a Cal Poly freshman student named Donald Turnupseed who made a poorly-timed left turn onto what is now Highway 41.

"I happened to be living in Tulare when James Dean was killed, and I remember the headlines because the driver with whom James Dean collided when he was killed, was from Tulare," said Joe Weaver.

Journalist Jay Thompson says he interviewed more than 70 people while researching a three part series he did on Dean's death for the San Luis Obispo Tribune back in 2005. Donald Turnupseed had passed away in 1995, but Thompson was still able to gather some insight into how the crash affected the rest of his life.

"He did not go back to Cal Poly after that," said Thompson. "The accident shadowed him his entire life."

Thompson said Turnupseed was never cited for his involvement in the crash, but Thompson believes he paid dearly over the years because of his association with it.

While Highway 46 is heavily traveled today, back in 1955 it was much less so. However, Thompson says the image of Dean traveling on a desolate roadway is not entirely accurate either.

That night Paso Robles High School was playing in Bakersfield and the Paso community was headed east to cheer on their team. As a result many people passed the crash scene along the way.

"So at the time of the crash, it wasn't hectic by any stretch of the imagination, but after the accident, many people in the community of Paso Robles drove by the crash and saw the car on the side of the road," said Thompson.

As a result, and because so many local people were involved with the investigation, Thompson says the James Dean crash is remembered differently here than it is around the world.

If James Dean were still alive today, he would have been 84 years old. He's buried in Fairmount, Indiana where he went to high school.