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1 Killed, 2 Injured as Pipes Fall Onto Freeway

July 20, 1994|MARK SABBATINI and CHIP JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Iron pipes 30 feet long and weighing up to a ton each rained down on the Golden State Freeway from an overhead transition ramp in Sylmar on Tuesday afternoon, one of them skewering a car and killing the driver.

Two people were injured in the freak accident in the northern San Fernando Valley where the Golden State and Foothill and Antelope Valley freeways come together.

The pipes broke loose from a flatbed truck on a transition ramp from the westbound Foothill to the southbound Golden State. As the truck continued to travel, eight to 10 pipes plunged about 45 feet onto the Golden State Freeway and truck lanes of the Antelope Valley Freeway, knocking concrete chunks off a ramp as they fell.

"All I could hear was pipes and concrete all around me," said Gary Payne, 43, of Valencia, who was driving on the ramp. "I don't know how I made it through."

One of the pipes, which authorities said were about 18 to 20 inches in diameter and weighed about 1,500 to 2,000 pounds apiece, slammed into a white Oldsmobile Bravada, knocking off the car's roof, witnesses said.

"The pipe just sheared it off and opened it like a can of sardines," said Jack Gastil of Canyon Country, who was driving his van behind the victim's vehicle on the northbound Golden State.

The car bounced off the concrete center divider of the freeway before coming to a rest on its side in the right-hand lanes. The driver's head was crushed, Gastil said.

The dead man's identity was not made public pending notification of his family.

The accident occurred about 4:15 p.m., said Officer John Manduca of the California Highway Patrol, when straps or chains holding a load of about 20 pipes broke and many rolled or bounced over the side of the transition ramp.

"The driver is usually responsible for tying down his own load," said Manduca, noting that the accident was under investigation.

The driver could not immediately halt his truck as the pipes began rolling off, Manduca said, and that was why they were dropped over such an extensive area.

Several vehicles on a ramp were hit by debris, although only two people were treated for injuries.

Officials closed the northbound Golden State and the transition from the westbound Foothill to the southbound Golden State while the accident was investigated and cleared.

Northbound rush hour traffic backed up beyond the Simi Valley Freeway, five miles to the south, and freeways and surface roads throughout the area had similar backups.

The death and injury toll could have been much worse given the traffic and number of pipes, said Milton Vrquilla of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

"For something like this at this time of the day and for the size of these pipes, we're lucky we didn't have more damage than we do now," he said.

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