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Fatalities Renew Debate on Safety of Kanan Road

September 27, 1987|TRACY WILKINSON | Times Staff Writer

The deaths of three people in the last three months, killed when runaway trucks crashed into an embankment at the end of Kanan Dume Road, have revived a long-standing debate on safety along the popular route to Malibu beaches.

"How many have to die?" asks a hand-painted sign on the hillside where Kanan joins the Pacific Coast Highway. It was placed there by friends of the latest victims, two Malibu women whose deaths have dismayed and rallied area residents demanding improved safety on the winding, sometimes-treacherous road.

After the Sept. 16 crash, the California Highway Patrol began weighing trucks entering the steepest section of Kanan Dume. Because of an eight-degree grade, trucks weighing more than seven tons are prohibited on a five-mile stretch of the road, but the rule is often ignored, authorities say.

The flatbed loaded with cinder blocks that reportedly lost its brakes and careened into the cars of Christine MacIntyre, 48, and Linda Parrish, 33, was estimated at about 12 tons over that limit, CHP spokesman Craig Klein said. Last week, despite publicity surrounding the accident, four more overweight trucks were stopped by the CHP, he said.

Responding in part to protests from Malibu residents, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last week asked the Public Works Department to start plans immediately for installation of an "arrester bed," a dirt or gravel bed that runaway vehicles can turn into, enabling them to slow down and avoid a crash.

In its meeting last Tuesday, the board also appointed a traffic safety task force to study additional measures, including the possible banning of school and charter buses and motor homes from the more dangerous sections of the road and the stiffening of penalties for violating ordinances governing allowable weights of trucks and condition of vehicles.

A group of area residents is urging these and other measures in a letter-writing and telephone campaign aimed at county officials.

The new task force was ordered to report immediate recommendations within seven days and it will issue a final report on the overall problem in 30 days.

"It is evident not only from the tragedy that took two lives but from subsequent CHP inspections that even tougher action is needed to protect the public on Kanan Dume Road," Supervisor Deane Dana told the board.

The banking curves and steep grades of heavily traveled Kanan Dume Road have given it a reputation of being one of the most dangerous roads in the state.

History of Accidents

With a history of accidents starting soon after it opened in 1974, the 13-mile cross-mountain highway, which connects the San Fernando and Simi valleys with the sea shore, has been the subject of several lawsuits filed by crash victims.

Motorists often claim the highway was poorly designed and built; county officials blame most of the accidents on drivers who ignore safety rules.

Caltrans refused to release the figures on the number of deaths because of pending litigation, but county Public Works Department reports and news stories indicate that at least 42 people have been killed and more than 500 injured since the road opened.

Authorities point to a series of measures taken over the years to upgrade safety, including the placement of warning signs, construction of a guardrail and passing lanes, ordering of weight limits and use of radar.

"If people would obey the rules laid out for trucks and cars, it would be a very safe road to drive. But that is not the situation, so we have to look at how to deal with that," Peter Ireland, an aide to county supervisor Dana, said from his Malibu office.

"The enforcement aspect needs to be strengthened by the engineering aspect. . .. (The solution) is a combination of two things," he said.

Local Outrage

The most recent accident sparked an especially strong outburst of local outrage because the two victims were members of the community who were killed as they sat in their cars.

"A lot of people are personally involved with this," said Ellen Francisco, a 16-year resident of the Malibu area and friend of one of the victims.

"It has never been a Malibu resident before," she said. "It was always a truck driver. Not that you don't feel badly for the truck driver, but somehow it seems a person should be responsible for himself."

But in the most recent accident, Francisco said, the victims were "people who had nothing to do with the truck. That's why there is so much reaction. These were two innocent bystanders. We all looked and realized it could have been any one of us."

Friends of the victims distributed flyers at shopping centers and flooded Dana's office with calls urging more safety measures.

"We plan to follow up on this, make sure things move forward," Francisco said. "The new measures should deter accidents."

Brakes Failed

The third person killed in the last three months was a truck driver whose brakes failed in July. The truck barreled down Kanan into the same embankment where the two Malibu women were killed.

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