Peng Wang, a budding cinematographer who was studying his craft at Chapman University, died on Friday, April 15, following a sand dune accident in southern California that involved an off-road vehicle. He was 29 years old.
Wang was with a group of three USC film students who were taking pictures on a large sand dune in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area near the Arizona and Mexico borders when their off-road vehicle rolled over. Wang was the only student who wasn’t wearing his safety harness, and he suffered fatal injuries in the rollover.
The incident occurred near the Osborne Overlook, an area of dunes popular with off-roaders, and it’s unclear whether the outing was part of a film production or whether the group had any permits to shoot on the dunes.
Wang was a third-year graduate student from China who was known as ‘Aaron’ to his friends and colleagues, according to Stephen Galloway, the dean of Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, who spoke to both the LA Times and CBS News.
“We have extraordinarily strict safety protocols, but in this case, we had a student who volunteered on an independent project and we have no control over those,” said Galloway. “I cannot imagine anything worse than a terrifically talented, brilliant young cinematographer dying on a production, and I’m outraged that strict safety measures were not in place on this.”
“Our deepest sympathy is with the family members of the deceased student on this tragic loss,” added Elizabeth Daley, the dean of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. “We also send condolences to the Chapman University community.”
Daley later noted that USC’s film school has “very strict safety policies that all students are trained in and expected to follow at all times,” and that “the school does not tolerate violations of safety protocols. We are still gathering information about how this tragic accident occurred.”
The LA Times reported that the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles has been in contact with Wang’s family “to offer our deepest condolences for their loss,” according to spokesman Gao Fei. “The Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles will provide all necessary assistance to the family in the handling of the aftermath.”
Wang worked on several short films that were accepted by noteworthy festivals, including Daemon, which won Best Drama Short at the Los Angeles Film Awards. His tragic death comes six months after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed by a live round fired from a prop gun on the New Mexico set of the low-budget Alec Baldwin movie Rust — an incident that remains under investigation.