James Byron Dean

On Sept. 30, 1955, less than a week after completing the final scene of Giant, actor James Dean was on his way from Los Angeles to a sports car race in Salinas. The actor was driving at less than the posted 60-mph speed limit when he was involved in a collision with a Ford sedan driven by Donald Turnupseed at the intersection of Highways 466 (now 46 East) and 41 near Chalome, Calif.

   Though nearly 50 years later Dean's rebel image and enduring spirit still lives on as a legend that is without equal.  For young people coming of age, including myself, Dean was someone they could easily identify with: an outsider, a loner--he was the opposite of everything a well-behaved youth was supposed to be.   Dean's recklessness and commitment to having lived his life to the fullest had its appeal as well. 


   While it may be every kids dream to live in Hollywood, drive exotic cars and have the longing eyes of every girl in America on him. Dean actually did it....In a way, the kids feel he did it all for them. He was, moreover, the one hero who would never sell out... He would never have a chance to.

    Living my whole life near the area where Dean lost his life, his memory holds a special place in my heart. Frequent trips to the steel sculptured memorial erected to honor James Dean by Japanese business man SEITA OHNISHI placed the idea inside of me to create a painting inspired by the turbulent memory of James Dean.

"I think there is only one form of greatness
for man. If a man can bridge the gap
between life and death. I mean, if he can live
on after he has died, then maybe he was a great
man. To me the only success, the only
greatness, is immortality." James Dean


The figure eight turned sideways is the symbol for eternity prominently featured on the stainless steel memorial representing Dean's life and death.

In the 60's, I painted a Porsche Spyder silver for Ruby Binkley, owner of 1865 Restaurant in San Luis Obispo.

There was something like 90 of these cars even made and I was lucky enough to be able to work on one.

Small world... I can remember Don Turnupseed's car, San Luis Obispo was a small town, and I remember every hot rod built.  We lived three blocks from Cal Poly, on Murrey Street, also I used to walk to school and my passion was cars.  There is only 12 years age difference between us.  I was driving when I was 15 and was already working on cars by then. 

I was 12 years old when James Dean died.  Lived in San Luis and the Local Paper did major coverage of his accident in Chalome, and I remember this like it was just yesterday.


Paul Moreno, at right, and Buster Davidson of Cholame prepare a gurney for Rolf Wuetherich as Don Dooley watches.  The Man on the left is unidentified.

Don Turnupseed with his hands on his hips.
The car was customized and had a HOT ROD motor. 

Photo Taken by Don Turnupseed 
at Paul Moreno's Chalome garage.

    Turnupseed quote: "I didn't see him by god, I really didn't see him."

   Donald Turnupseed.  The person who killed James Dean died of Lung Cancer in 1995.  He never spoke of the accident to anyone except for a brief interview with the local paper the next day.  He inherited a business and died a very wealthy man.  Age 63.

   At the Cholome Garage, Turnupseed took his own photos of his wrecked hot rod Ford, telling the owner, Paul Moreno, to sell it for whatever it's worth and Moreno could keep half the money.

   Turnupseed was a 23 year old San Luis Obispo Cal Poly student.  He loved cars and the motor in the Ford 2-door had been souped up, I studied the photo and saw custom interior, custom paint.  For sure, things that I didn't know about.  In other words, this was a fast car.

   Don Turnupseed had never given any statements of guilt or remorse or accepted any responsibility for James Dean's death.  After the accident, Turnupseed, with a scratched nose, was told by a CHP officer to hitchhike home to Tulare.  This was a red flag!  I have posted a photo of Don Turnupseed with his hands on his hips.  The Police officer had to have seen some sort of attitude.  Otherwise, he would have given the guy a ride to Paso Robles.  For the first time, I am old now, I see for myself something I never knew.  Turnupseed was driving a hot rod, probably with more horse power than Dean's car.  He would have been cited at the scene for an illegal left turn and other negligence-related charges, such as failure to signal, failure to see safe movement, and unsafe speed.

   Dean wouldn't have had a chance against the way heavier 1950 Ford 2-Door sedan that would have been sitting on a rake, the "rake" meaning down low, so the car was sitting low to the ground, as was Dean's car.  The 1950 Ford sedan was a custom car low to the ground hot rod.  After 50 years, how could everyone have missed that!!

   I am just a small town guy having lived my whole life where James Dean was killed.  My lifelong career was in high-end sports car and automotive collision repair and fabrication.  I have been interested in this event for many years.  I believe that Don Turnupseed was driving too fast in a "Hot Rod".  Something no one else has really talked about.  My own personal opinion -- There may have been a cover-up in the investigation that killed James Dean.  DON TURNUPSEED SHOULD HAVE BEEN CHARGED FOR THE ACCIDENT -- offered in testimony from the original inquest, because of James Dean's death!!  Yet he was not.  No charges were ever brought against him.  WHY NOT?!!  The county was San Luis Obispo, CA.

  James Dean is buried in Fremont Fairy Cemetery, Indiana, but his ghost lives on in Chalome, CA. on Highway 46 where people have said they've seen his ghost walking.  The thoughtful and beautiful memorial was a gift from
Japan's SEITA OHNISHI, who had taken a life long interest in James Dean's life.  There would be no memorial without him.  In Indiana Dean's tombstone has been stolen three times to date.

 If James Dean had been driving a little faster, he lives.  Hours before, he had gotten a speeding ticket.  At the time he died, he wasn't rich and famous.  His last two movies only came out after his death.

   James Dean's last words, yelling to his good friend and mechanic, Rolf Weutherich were, and this is a quote, "HE'S GOT TO SEE US.  THAT GUY'S GOTTA STOP...  HE'LL SEE US!!"  As James Dean took his foot off the accelerator, slowing the car down to 55 mph.  He died in the ambulance en route to Paso Robles Hospital.  Bob Nunes  July 18, 2010.

 Two computer generated videos of the crash:

My Cars 50's & 60's

My Brother's Band: "The Sentinals"   Johnny Barbados on the left sitting on the running board.  He played with Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and with my brother (Sitting in the driver's seat) in The Sentinals.



Artist Portfolio

My Cars 50's & 60's & James Dean

 "Leg Show T" Roadster

Artist's Legacy

Tribute to James Dean

All images 2011 Bob Nunes