By Brad Dison
As a teenager, George spent most of his free time cruising the streets of Modesto, California. He owned a Autobianchi Bianchina, an Italian minicar based on the Fiat 500. The car sported a convertible top, roll bar, and was surprisingly peppy for its size. George liked driving fast.
For most of George’s high school career, he was in danger of failing. George’s mother worried that he would never amount to anything. George’s father reassured her that George was just a late bloomer. George’s father wanted George to follow in his footsteps and run the office equipment store that the family had built. However, George wanted to be a car mechanic and race cars. George and his parents argued over the direction George planned to take in life. Finally, to placate his parents, George decided to go to college. First, George had to finish high school.
It was the end of the school year in 1962, and George was a senior at Thomas Downey High School. His high school graduation was scheduled for June 15, but George did not make it to his graduation. Three days before graduation, on June 12 at 4:50 p.m., George was driving his minicar back to his home at 821 Sylvan Road in Modesto, California. In the era when wearing a seatbelt was optional and seatbelts did not come standard in all cars, George was buckled in. As George neared his driveway, he slowed the car and turned on his left blinker. George looked ahead and saw that there was no oncoming traffic. George turned the wheel to the left and began the turn into his driveway. The last thing George heard was a horn.
17-year-old Frank Ferreira, also of Modesto, was driving at about 90 miles per hour in the same direction George had been traveling. Frank saw the minicar travelling slowly and veered into the left lane to pass. As Frank neared George’s minicar, George began the turn. Frank had little time to react. He slammed on the brakes and honked the horn, but it was too late. Frank’s car hit George’s minicar so hard that George’s car flipped seven or eight times and struck a walnut tree. While the car was flipping, George’s seatbelt snapped, and George was thrown from the minicar. A millisecond later, George’s minicar and Frank’s car struck a walnut tree. George was seriously injured. He lay unconscious near his crushed car. Paramedics rushed George to the Modesto City Hospital. Frank was uninjured.
When George awoke, a nurse reassured him. “Don’t worry,” she said, “you have all of your arms and legs.” “What do you mean?” George asked. He had no memory of the accident. Everybody kept telling George, “You should be dead.” After hearing that several times, George decided that “maybe there’s a reason I’m here.”
Whereas George had little interest in his high school career, he excelled in what became his major area of study in his junior year of college. George’s father was right when he said George was a late bloomer. George’s mother had no reason to be concerned about George’s lack of direction or that he would never amount to anything. According to Forbes, in 2023, George’s net worth was more than $4.9 billion. Had George agreed to go into his family’s office equipment business or had George not survived the car crash, we would never have shared in the adventures of Dr. Henry Walton Jones Jr., nor would we have learned what happened “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” The teenage boy who somehow survived a horrific car crash went on to create the epic Hollywood franchises “Indiana Jones,” and “Star Wars.” His name is George Walton Lucas, Jr.
1. The Modesto Bee, June 13, 1962, p.22.