After years of complaints from residents, state officials agreed Tuesday to install guardrails along a short stretch of the Foothill Freeway in La Canada Flintridge where a truck driver died in a freak accident Friday.
Robert Samuel Clark, 53, of Baldwin Hills was killed when he was ejected from the gravel truck he was driving and run over by the rear wheels of the vehicle as it rolled down a freeway embankment near Gould Avenue.
The truck crashed into three cars parked at a McDonald's restaurant at 449 Foothill Blvd. No one else was injured in the 8:40 a.m. incident. City officials said that, if the eastbound truck had left the freeway a few feet sooner, it could have crashed into the restaurant lobby, into an adjoining ballet school or onto busy Foothill Boulevard.
Witnesses said the driver of the empty dump-truck and trailer rig had slowed and pulled onto the right shoulder before he hit a freeway call box and then hurtled down a steep embankment, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Munday.
There was no evidence that the driver suffered a heart attack or other medical problem, said Robert Dambacher, spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner. Results of alcohol and drug tests will not be complete for two to three weeks, he said.
City officials and residents two years ago asked for protective guardrails at the site of the truck mishap, but their requests were rejected by the state Department of Transportation, City Manager Don Otterman said.
Jerry Baxter, deputy district director of Caltrans, said Tuesday that he believes the unusual incident "will never ever happen again." However, he said he has agreed to install barriers "to calm the sensitivities and concerns of the community."
Baxter said about 300 feet of guardrails will be installed on the south side of the freeway to protect the restaurant and ballet school. He said the work should be done sometime early next year. Cost of the project has not been determined.
Otterman said he first was concerned that guardrails would not be strong enough to stop a speeding truck. But he said Caltrans and county officials have assured him that the rails "are the best that they can do" to prevent vehicles from leaving the freeway.
Those who live and work near the freeway, however, said they are not satisfied with the Caltrans decision. John McCarthy, director of finance at Flintridge Preparatory School on the north side of the freeway, said he worries that a truck will plow through the guardrail protecting the school's locker room and gym, 15 feet from the freeway. McCarthy and residents said they have been pleading with Caltrans to build retaining walls instead. "We need retaining walls that are high enough and strong enough to contain these trucks," said Carol Back, a 25-year resident who said she has been fighting for sound and safety barriers since the freeway opened in 1972.
However, Caltrans officials said noise in the neighborhood falls well below the state's standards.