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Speeding Drivers Add to Road's Deadly Risk : Tragedy: Kevin Martin, 13, is latest victim on Sierra Highway, where blind corners and heavy traffic pose dangers.

October 31, 1994|MARK SABBATINI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

AGUA DULCE — About two weeks ago, 13-year-old Kevin Martin died when a van hit him as he was riding his bicycle near a blind curb close to his home on Sierra Highway, leaving his parents with a sense of hopeless frustration.

For years, Jim and Hollie Martin had warned their four children repeatedly about the dangers of the heavily traveled thoroughfare.

"He knew better than to be near the road at that time," his father said.

Ironically, the Martins moved to a double-wide mobile home along Sierra Highway eight years ago because it was a quiet place to live.

But in recent years, mainly because of the large number of commuters from the fast-growing Antelope Valley, traffic on Sierra Highway has been so heavy that the Martins wouldn't even let their four children cross the road to get the mail.

Several family pets have been struck by vehicles. Driving out of partially obscured driveways along the highway is a risky proposition.

Three years ago, the couple participated in a protest rally along the mostly two-lane road, hoping to send a message to speeding motorists.

Still, the Martins don't blame the driver of the van for the accident that killed their son. He was, after all, driving under the speed limit when it happened. But they are upset that what used to be a quiet country road has turned into an alternate to the Antelope Valley Freeway for commuters--and a danger to local residents.

"I stand in this kitchen and I see people passing on the double yellow line, and I yell at them from the kitchen window, 'You idiots!' " Hollie Martin said.

The accident that took Kevin Martin's life was the second fatality this month on the stretch of Sierra Highway between the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, where the Martins live, and the 47th traffic collision there this year, said Officer Michelle Esposito of the California Highway Patrol.

CHP officers are aware that the road is a trouble spot: Two officers on a special patrol of the area wrote 44 tickets for speeding and other traffic violations during one daytime shift last week. But Esposito said the CHP seldom has extra manpower available to patrol the road, and regular shift officers have to concentrate on the heavier freeway traffic.

Residents along the highway said it usually remains quiet at night and during the middle of the day. But long straightaways and gentle curves make it possible for a constant stream of rush-hour commuters to hit speeds of up to 80 m.p.h. on a road with a 55 m.p.h. speed limit.

"They practically push you," said Kathleen Robinson, a woman in her 70s who moved five years ago into a house near the curve where Kevin Martin was killed. "You're going the speed limit, but they want you going 65 or 70."

Impatient motorists pass slower cars at high speeds, endangering oncoming vehicles on a daily basis, according to others.

"There are not too many experiences that can equal someone coming downhill at you in your lane at 80 miles per hour, flashing their lights and swerving just in the nick of time only because you have slammed on your brakes to avoid becoming another Sierra Highway statistic," wrote John Sage, a friend of the Martins, in a letter of complaint to Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

Desolate stretches of Sierra Highway are interrupted suddenly by driveways and intersections that appear just around a curve or over a hilltop. Populated areas such as Acton and Agua Dulce have dozens of driveways that intersect the road.

Local residents said the burden is on them to take precautions when entering the road.

"If I had my choice, I'd be driving a Peterbilt," said Lisa Murchland, 33, who lives with her two children in a house at the top of a small hill where Sierra Highway briefly divides into four lanes.

The four-lane section ends just south of her driveway, and Murchland said she sees a constant stream of vehicles trying to pass at high speeds--often on the wrong side of the road--before they are beyond slower vehicles. She said she has not seen any accidents in front of her home, but her dog was run over a year ago by a speeding truck.

Drivers noticeably pick up speed in the mornings, when many are headed to work, Murchland added.

"You're not getting paid to rush home," she said.

Many residents in the area have suggested adding a lane in each direction to lessen congestion on the Antelope Valley Freeway. Caltrans officials said a widening was planned for a 16-mile stretch of the freeway beginning in 1995, but a shortage of funds because of repairs from the Northridge earthquake could delay the expansion indefinitely.

Putting in stop signs at intersections and reducing the speed limit was also suggested. Sage's wife, Terri, said a lot of motorists exit the freeway at congested sections, use Sierra Highway for a short distance and return to the freeway.

"Once we've got a few stop signs up, people who get off freeway to use (Sierra Highway) would stay on the freeway," she said.

A county public works employee who asked not to be identified said Sierra Highway with its current speed limits would be a safe road "if everyone drove the speed limit."

But most commuters don't, and more are moving into the Antelope Valley--and commuting to Los Angeles--every day, said Hollie Martin. She said she doesn't want to leave the area, but thinks it is time to move from her roadside home before another tragedy strikes.

"I've told my husband many times I would like to move back away from the road, and get away from the highway," she said.

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