msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/14/2010 12:57:45 AM ET 2010-11-14T05:57:45

Five people were killed Saturday in a head-on crash involving seven motorcycles and two passenger cars on a rural road near Ocotillo, 80 miles east of San Diego, the California Highway Patrol said.

The driver of the car believed to have caused the crash got away unscathed, officials said.

CHP officer Deeann Goudie, the first emergency responder on the scene, called the crash "one of the most traumatic I've seen" in 23 years with the CHP.

Besides the fatalities, five people were injured, Goudie said. Four with serious injuries were airlifted out by two helicopters to trauma centers in San Diego, she said.

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The crash apparently was caused by an impatient driver of a gold Honda Civic, Goudie said.

She described the 1 p.m. accident:

Twelve motorcycles in a group were eastbound on lightly traveled, two-lane Highway 98, which runs parallel with the U.S.-Mexico border and has a 65 mph speed limit.

The Civic driver came up behind the motorcyclists and made an unsafe pass. The westbound driver of a white Dodge Avenger, facing the Honda, took evasive action and swerved right into the path of the oncoming motorcycles.

A female Avenger passenger died when a motorcyclist went right through the front passenger door of the car, Goudie said. The Avenger driver was among those airlifted to a hospital.

Identities of the fatalities were not released pending notification of family, she said.

Imperial County fire Captain Peter Stanton told the San Diego Union-Tribune that two men and two women on motorcycles were the other fatalities.

Authorities are searching for the Honda Civic, estimated to be a 1995-2000 model, driven by a man wearing a baseball cap.

Goudie said the Civic driver may face charges depending on the outcome of the crash investigation.

Goudie said besides the CHP, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Bureau of Land Management, the local sheriff's office and fire department responded to the scene.

She advise drivers to be patient and not to pass in unsafe ways.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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