Paul Walker, one of the stars of the "Fast and Furious" franchise, died in a car accident yesterday in Valencia, Calif., when the Porsche in which he was a passenger crashed and burst into flames. He was 40.
TMZ was the first to report the news, and Walker's official Facebook page confirmed the story.
"It is with a truly heavy heart that we must confirm that Paul Walker passed away today in a tragic car accident while attending a charity event for his organization Reach Out Worldwide [ROWW]," the statement reads. "He was a passenger in a friend's car, in which both lost their lives. We appreciate your patience as we too are stunned and saddened beyond belief by this news."
Walker was at Winter Drive, a ROWW charity car show and toy drive put on in support of Typhoon Haiyan victims. It was sponsored in part by Valencia-based auto company Always Evolving, in which Walker was an investor; the driver of the car was financial advisor and Always Evolving CEO Roger Rodas.
According to Jim Torp, an electrician who knew Rodas and was at the event, Walker and Rodas took off in a red 2005 Porsche Carrera GT toward the end of the car show for what was supposed to be a quick spin.
"The crash happened right behind the Always Evolving warehouse, just one street over in a commercial area," Torp tells People. "Suddenly I heard a loud bang in the distance. There was billowing black smoke in the distance. When I saw that, I felt in my heart that something was tragically wrong."
Torp was among those who rushed to the scene. "It was clear the car had hit two trees then finally hit a street lamppost," he says. "Parts of the car were strewn everywhere on the street, as far as 150 feet. I didn't see any skid marks. Where the car had crashed was on a long straightaway. How fast they were going, I don't know."
Despite a Los Angeles County sheriff's statement claiming "speed was a factor" in the accident, a Santa Clarita Sheriff's Station official refused to speculate as to the exact cause of the crash. "It looks like speed could've been a factor, but we haven't made an official determination for the cause of the accident, which will take some time," Lt. John Rush explained to People.
For his part, Torp emphasizes that Rodas, a father of two and an experienced race car driver, was "not a reckless guy." However, the Porsche Carrera GT has been described as "scary" to drive, even for a pro.
Walker leaves behind a 15-year-old daughter, Meadow.
"Fast and Furious" studio Universal released a heartfelt statement in the aftermath of the crash: "Paul was truly one of the most beloved and respected members of our studio family for 14 years, and this loss is devastating to us, to everyone involved with the 'Fast and Furious' films, and to countless fans. We send our deepest and most sincere condolences to Paul's family."
Filming for "Fast & Furious 7" was already under way at the time of Walker's death, and according to sources for The Hollywood Reporter, the big-budget movie will likely be delayed, but not abandoned. Walker's next movie, the Hurricane Katrina thriller "Hours," hits theaters December 13.
[via People, THR]