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Crash Prompts Call for Added Controls on Peninsula Trucks

July 23, 1987|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

The fatal crash of an overloaded, runaway trash truck and two other vehicles this week has prompted a call for stronger controls on trucks using the steep, curving roads of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

The Rancho Palos Verdes City Council on Tuesday called for a meeting of officials from their city, Rolling Hills Estates, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which polices both cities, and the California Highway Patrol to discuss alternatives.

Truck Lane Considered

Rancho Palos Verdes Councilman Bob Ryan said the officials could consider the feasibility of separating truck and automobile traffic along Crenshaw and Hawthorne boulevards. "We want to start looking at things like putting a truck lane in and making the trucks stay in that lane," he said.

No date or location for the meeting has been set.

In recent months, county and Rolling Hills Estates officials have lowered speed limits and imposed weight restrictions on Crenshaw, where the fatal accident occurred Monday. Moreover, sheriff's deputies who patrol the Peninsula have been seeking authority to immediately order defective trucks or vans off the road if a CHP officer is not readily available. Currently, only the CHP can do that.

One person was killed and four others were injured when the garbage truck, which CHP investigators say was overweight by more than four tons, went out of control while traveling downhill on Crenshaw shortly before noon. The truck, owned by Western Waste Industries and driven by 23-year-old Daniel Lee of Los Angeles, crashed through a guardrail and struck a car that had sped up to avoid it. The truck then ripped off the upper part of another car driven by Virginia Ponce DeLeon, 46, of San Pedro. DeLeon was killed instantly.

Daughter Saw Crash

DeLeon's daughter, Cynthia, 18, was following her mother and witnessed the crash. The woman's husband, Frank, was behind his daughter in a third vehicle, but did not see the accident. CHP investigators said they do not know why the family was traveling caravan-style.

The two people in the first car hit by the truck, as well as a worker who was in the garbage truck, were treated at hospitals and released. Lee remained hospitalized Wednesday with a broken jaw.

CHP investigators said the trash truck was 9,000 pounds overweight when the accident occurred. By unloading the refuse from the truck and picking up the trash left in the vehicle's wake, investigators determined that the truck weighed nearly 60,000 pounds overall--18% more than the maximum allowed under state law, Officer Rich Richards said.

Richards said the additional 9,000 pounds was a "contributing factor" to the accident. "It certainly would have made the truck more difficult to handle," he said.

However, Richards said investigators still have not determined whether mechanical failure or driver error caused the truck to go out of control.

Richard Haft, a vice president and general counsel for Western Waste, said it was "unfortunate that the truck was overweight," but said no one knows what caused the accident.

Haft said the trucks are not equipped with scales. He said there are times when "all trash trucks are overweight. Every once in a while, a truck will pick up an extra load or two and become overweight."

Lee, the truck's driver, had worked at Western only a month or two but previously had worked at another refuse company and had a good driving record, Haft said. The company is conducting its own investigation, he said.

Authorities said there are two to four accidents a year involving runaway trucks on Crenshaw and Hawthorne boulevards, the Peninsula's main arteries. The worst accident in recent memory occurred several years ago when three people burned to death after an out-of-control concrete truck careened down a steep Hawthorne Boulevard grade and collided with a small car.

As a result of the accidents, Rolling Hills Estates and sheriff's deputies have tried to restrict trucks on the two roads. Last December, county officials lowered the truck speed limit on a segment of Crenshaw between Silverspur Road and Palos Verdes Drive North from 45 m.p.h. to 25 m.p.h. after the Sheriff's Department voiced concern. The speed limit for cars was left at 45 m.p.h.

More recently, the Rolling Hills Estates City Council on July 14 passed an ordinance that forbids trucks weighing 6,000 pounds or more from traveling along Crenshaw in a short, city-controlled stretch near Silverspur. The ordinance, which goes into effect in mid-August, does not apply to trucks doing business in the city if Crenshaw provides the most direct route to their destination.

"The idea is to get them on Hawthorne," where there are emergency lanes for runaway trucks, said Doug Prichard, assistant city manager for Rolling Hills Estates.

It was unclear whether the ordinance--had it been in effect--would have prevented the trash truck from using Crenshaw.

Prichard said the city has asked Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana to look into the possibility of installing emergency lanes along Crenshaw. Such lanes run parallel to the road and are designed to allow vehicles in trouble to get off and stop safely.

Rolling Hills Estates also supports legislation being sponsored by the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs that would give deputies the power to order defective trucks or vans off the road immediately if a CHP officer is not available.

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