Sixty-two people were killed on California's streets and highways over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, and state officials pointed to the totals Monday to support their contention that the period is the most dangerous time of the year to travel by car.
In Orange County, two people were killed and 97 arrested on suspicion of drunk driving on local highways during the long holiday weekend that ended at midnight Sunday, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The fatalities occurred in Santa Ana and Huntington Beach.
Donnell Kevin Williams, 27, of Long Beach was killed early Friday during a high-speed chase that ended when his car crashed into a block wall in Santa Ana, flipped and crushed him. The sedan, which belonged to the FBI, was reportedly stolen the day before at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
In Huntington Beach, a young bicyclist died of injuries suffered when she was hit by a car. Tracy Pully, 13, of Huntington Beach was turning left from northbound Golden West Street to eastbound Ellis Avenue when she was hit about noon Saturday, police said. She was taken to Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, where she died Sunday. Police said the motorist who struck the girl had a green light and was not cited.
Last Thanksgiving, two people were killed on Orange County roads and 95 motorists were booked on suspicion of driving while under the influence of alcohol, CHP spokesman Paul Caldwell said.
"As holidays go, this year was pretty routine," Caldwell said, adding that the CHP dispatched extra units to patrol for suspected drunken drivers during the holiday period beginning Wednesday night. But the CHP did not set up sobriety checkpoints on local roads or highways, Caldwell said.
Elsewhere in the state, two of the worst accidents occurred in the San Joaquin Valley.
3 Drown in Aqueduct
The CHP reported that a family of three were killed Thursday in Kern County when a speeding car hurdled a freeway center divider and crashed into the family's auto. In the second accident, three children drowned Friday night when the car in which they were riding plunged into the California Aqueduct near Los Banos in Merced County, CHP investigators said.
In Riverside County, CHP Officer Mark Taylor, 28, was killed Thursday while writing a citation beside Interstate 10 near Cathedral City. Investigating officers said Taylor, married and the father of one, was struck by a speeding car that slammed into the vehicle he had stopped.
"The four days at Thanksgiving are when we get the most traffic. . . . More people are traveling and motorists risk more exposure to accidents," said Sgt. Mark Lunn, CHP Southern California Division spokesman.
This year's toll of 62 dead--compiled from 6 p.m. Wednesday to midnight Sunday--compares to 60 fatalities last year at Thanksgiving. The highest four-day death count occurred in 1970, when 88 people were killed, according to Nicholas Jones, a California Department of Transportation traffic engineer.
Over the last 10 years, the Thanksgiving holiday toll has averaged 58 fatalities. The average daily number of traffic fatalities in the state is 12.
More Miles Driven
Higher traffic risk "has a lot to do with the fact that people are getting out of town, they're going to Grandma's house," Jones said. "The traffic leaving town almost doubles at Thanksgiving."
While the death toll on this holiday has remained about the same for a decade, the total number of cars and drivers in California has increased dramatically and the number of miles driven climbed to 221.7 billion last year, up 6% over the previous year, CHP officials reported.
CHP spokesman Steve Kohler said: "That's an indication that all of our safety-related efforts are having an impact. . . . The drunk-driving enforcement, the seat-belt laws are working."
Even so, the 62 deaths in California topped the nation this Thanksgiving, according to federal reports. There were 494 total holiday fatalities in the nation. Florida was second with 34 deaths.