LOS ANGELES – While the neighborhood where “Fast & Furious” star Paul Walker died in a fiery crash is known to attract street racers, law enforcement officials do not believe the Porsche he and a friend were riding in had been racing another car.
Accident investigators “have received eyewitness statements that the car involved was traveling alone at a high rate of speed,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Monday. “No eyewitness has contacted the [department] to say there was a second vehicle.”
Walker and his friend and fellow fast-car enthusiast Roger Rodas died Saturday when Rodas’ 2005 Porsche Carrera GT smashed into a light pole and tree, then exploded in flames. The posted limit was 45 mph.
The two had taken what was expected to be a brief drive away from a charity fundraiser and toy drive at Rodas’ custom car shop in the Southern California community of Valencia, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Walker’s publicist said the action star was the passenger.
The crash happened on a street that forms an approximately 1-mile loop amid industrial office parks. It is rimmed by hills and relatively isolated from traffic, especially on weekends when the businesses are closed.
“It’s well-known out here that that’s a hot spot for street racers,” California Highway Patrol Sgt. Rick Miler said.
Skid marks are a testament to past antics on the loop. The sheriff’s department, which polices the neighborhood, said Saturday’s wreck was not the first speed-related crash there, but would not reveal specifics.
Meanwhile, investigators are consulting video from security cameras, talking to witnesses and analyzing physical evidence such as on-board computer data from the Porsche.
A steady stream of fans has flocked to the crash site to leave flowers, candles and memorabilia from the action films.
On Monday night, a private memorial for survivors and the cast and crew of the “Fast & Furious” movies was held inside a white tent erected around the crash site. When it was over, Walker’s co-star Vin Diesel emerged to thank fans for paying their respect to the actor.
“Thank you for coming and showing that angel up in heaven how much you appreciated him,” Diesel said to the crowd, using the bullhorn of a police cruiser.
Walker, 40, and Rodas, 38, had bonded over their shared love of fast cars. They co-owned an auto racing team named after Rodas’ shop, Always Evolving.
Walker starred in all but one of the six “Fast & Furious” blockbusters. He had been on break from shooting the latest installment; Universal Pictures has not said what it plans to do with “Fast & Furious 7,” currently slated for a July release.
Although he had recently turned 40, he still looked like the blue-eyed twenty-something California surfer he was when he broke through in the film business years ago.
His stature as the impossibly good-looking SoCal blond defined him in those early days – a stint on a soap opera and a role in the utopian 1950s send-up “Pleasantville” as the handsome jock who never misses a jump shot.
Director Gary Ross cast him to represent a kind of almost-comical perfection, the sort of iconography that would follow Walker throughout his career, one that found him dodging “himbo” stereotypes and shrewdly playing on his own image.
Exhibit A: His role in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, which commenced in 2001 – appropriate for its status as one of the first movie series to capture (and construct itself around) the changing demographics of a younger moviegoing audience.
Walker is the movie’s nominal central-casting star, playing an undercover cop who infiltrates a gang of street racers, but he melts into a multiethnic ensemble that included Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Rick Yune, as the movie inverts classic hunk-hero formula.
The original was co-scripted by David Ayer (“Training Day”), the L.A. native who’s specialized in exploring his city’s new demographic landscape. “F&F” found an enthusiastic audience among younger moviegoers who saw themselves reflected in the movie’s themes and crew. (The franchise would be helmed, along the way, by John Singleton and Justin Lin.)
The movies never asked Walker to do much as an actor, but when called upon, he could stretch a bit. He was good as the straight-laced older brother to mischief-prone Steve Zahn in the enjoyable John Dahl noir “Joy Ride,” and solid as stalwart leader of an animal-rescue team in “Eight Below.”
He was at his best in a small but crucial role as World War II hero Hank Hansen in “Flags of our Fathers.” Walker talked proudly about being from a military family (his grandfather was a Pearl Harbor survivor), and was thrilled to be working for director Clint Eastwood. Walker’s Hansen was a Marine who fought his way through brutal Japanese resistance to plant that famous flag atop Iwo Jima. He spoke movingly and sincerely about the chance to honor servicemen in his own family, and all of those who sacrifice to protect the country.
He leaves behind a daughter.
Includes reporting by the Philadelphia Daily News.