Use of ATV in crash that killed Chapman film student was not approved – San Bernardino Sun

USC film students who were shooting a movie in the Imperial County desert apparently did not follow all of the school’s rules for safety and other considerations — including the use of an ATV — before a crash on a sand dune that killed a Chapman University student, USC officials said Thursday, April 21.

Chapman third-year graduate student Peng “Aaron” Wang, 29, from China, had volunteered to be the cinematographer for a production in the Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area. He and three USC students were in a Maverick off-road vehicle on April 15 when it slowly slid down the side of a sand dune, overturning, said California Highway Patrol Officer Arturo Platero, a spokesman in the El Centro office.

Wang was not wearing a seat belt and was killed. The other three occupants were restrained and survived, Platero said.

Instructors at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts were apparently unaware of at least some aspects of the production. USC spokesman Jeremy Pepper said in a statement that officials were still investigating.

“Under our policies, any shoot taking place more than 50 miles away from our campus, or involving the use of all-terrain vehicles, would have required very specific approvals from the school. We are unaware of any such approvals having been requested or provided in this tragic matter,” the USC statement said.

It was unclear whether instructors had signed off on other parts of the production. Pepper declined to address that question or describe the process for approving shoots. Joe Wallenstein, the director of physical production, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

It’s also unclear whether the driver, who Platero identified as Bingliang Li, 25, had experience driving vehicles under similar circumstances. The vehicle was rented from Orchard City RV in Brawley, Platero said. No one at Orchard City could be reached for comment Thursday.

Li was sober when he was driving, said Platero, who added that the investigation was continuing.

The state Vehicle Code does not cover incidents in the area of the crash, Platero said, because it happened on federal Bureau of Land Management property. A BLM spokesperson on Thursday was looking into what charges could theoretically be filed if Li were found to be at fault.

USC’s film school’s 2008-09 edition of “Safety Rules for Student Productions,” the most recent that could be located, spans 62 pages. It covers firearms, use of fire, work hours, animal safety and vehicles, among other topics.

On the second page, the document states in boldface, capital letters, “Remember – under no circumstances is it permissible to film or tape scenes which put yourself, your cast, your crew or the public in harm’s way. No shot is ever worth an injury to death. Safety first.”

The document says that no student may film outside the “L.A. zone” without the presence of a police officer and when driving, it says in capital letters, “seat belts will be used at all times.”

An image from the USC film school’s safety rules shows a warning to students about using caution while shooting movies. (USC)

USC, in its statement, declined to discuss any possible discipline for the students.

The safety document says that students who violate rules will have to appear before a disciplinary committee of “peers and faculty members” and the University Judicial Affairs Committee. Punishments could include a student having a grade lowered, receiving a failing grade and having their film confiscated.

Attorney Felix T. Woo represents Li, and attorney Jason Liang represents another USC student on the shoot, Ting Su. In a joint statement Thursday, they said, “Our respective clients are deeply saddened by this tragic accident and are cooperating fully with the investigation by authorities, including the California Highway Patrol.  Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family members of Mr. Peng Wang’s family during this difficult time, the Chapman community, and all of those who are affected.”

Woo declined to make either student client available for an interview. The identity of the third USC student on the shoot was not available Thursday.

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