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Traffic Accidents, Including Wrong-Way Crash, Kill 10

Deaths: Man traveling east on westbound Foothill Freeway hits wall. Accidents in Lancaster, Norwalk, San Marino also claim lives over holiday weekend.

September 02, 1997|RICHARD WINTON and CLAIRE VITUCCI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An Alhambra man was killed on the Foothill Freeway in Pasadena on Monday in the latest in a series of perplexing wrong-way crashes that have claimed seven lives in the region since late July.

Wrong-way driver Carlos Ruiz, 24, was one of 10 people killed in traffic accidents in Los Angeles County over the Labor Day weekend.

Ruiz was driving east in the westbound lanes about 4 a.m. at speeds around 100 mph when he crashed head-on into a concrete wall, authorities said.

Firefighters in a county firetruck saw Ruiz's car and tried to stop him without success.

"He ignored our efforts to contact him and rammed into the center divider, where his car caught fire," said county Fire Department spokeswoman Clyde Taylor. "It was almost impossible to tell what kind of car it was after the crash."

Ruiz died at the scene; no other vehicles were involved, she said.

In Lancaster, Mathew B. Fuller, 25, and Anthony Wayne Turner, 22, were killed and five others were injured in a crash that occurred shortly after noon when a car ran a stop sign at Avenue K and 150th Street and hit another vehicle, authorities said. They said both cars were traveling well over the speed limit, both going about 60 mph. Fuller, of Apache Junction, Ariz., and Turner, of Lancaster, were traveling in the same car.

Two of the survivors were airlifted to Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles. One, a 16-year-old girl, was listed in serious condition with a lacerated spleen and fractured ribs, pelvis and collarbone, said hospital spokesman Steve Rutledge. The other, a 12-year-old girl, was listed in fair condition with fractures to her pelvis and collarbone. None of the injuries was deemed life-threatening, and both girls were alert Monday afternoon, Rutledge said. Other survivors were taken to Lancaster-area hospitals.

Earlier Monday, an elderly Temple City couple were killed when their car smashed into an auxiliary dolly accidentally dropped by a big-rig truck on the San Gabriel River Freeway in Norwalk.

Vittoriano Constantini, 84, and his wife, Stella, suffered head and neck injuries and were both killed instantly, authorities said. Neither Vittoriano Constantini, in the front passenger seat, nor Stella Constantini, in the back seat, were wearing seat belts, authorities said.

Two other relatives in the car received major injuries and were taken to a nearby hospital, CHP Officer Ken Lane said.

The family's car smashed into the wheeled dolly that had broken loose on the northbound side of the freeway, north of Firestone Avenue, Lane said.

The driver of the big-rig truck was not aware that the dolly was missing until he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport, authorities said.

Meanwhile, at a San Marino intersection with a history of crashes, an elderly woman was killed Monday in a two-car accident shortly before 8:30 a.m., police said.

Elsie Rosalie Frederiksen, 73, was turning north onto Los Robles Avenue from Huntington Drive when a vehicle broadsided her car, said San Marino Police Sgt. Lily Hadsell.

After the latest fatal wrong-way crash, the California Highway Patrol warned motorists to be on their guard at all times for wrong-way traffic.

In the four other wrong-way crashes since July 20, those who have lost their lives were in cars hit by the vehicle traveling against the flow of traffic.

"We get wrong-way drivers all the time, but as of late we have had a lot of fatalities," Lane said. "The best defense against these drivers is to be aware it can happen any time."

Lane said wrong-way drivers are more common than people think.

Often, such drivers are drunk, trying to evade law officers or lost, he said. Drivers who become disoriented, confused or who are suffering emotional problems tend to enter the highway the wrong way, he said. On occasion, the wrong-way crash can be a suicide attempt, he added.

On Friday, a 21-year-old Italian foreign exchange student was killed in a wrong-way crash near Pacoima. A 24-year-old Sylmar man, suspected of drunk driving, was booked on suspicion of felony manslaughter.

Two weeks ago, two people were killed when a stolen car traveling the wrong-way struck two vehicles on the San Gabriel River Freeway.

That same week, a car going east in the westbound lanes of the Foothill Freeway slammed head-on into another car, killing the other driver.

On July 20, a man drove his van on the San Diego Freeway the wrong way and crashed into a compact car in the southbound lanes, killing both the other car's occupants.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Defensive Driving

The California Highway Patrol gives this advice on how to avoid a crash with a wrong-way driver:

* Keep your eyes focused a distance down the road so you can be on the lookout for errant drivers.

* Do not follow the driver in front of you too closely.

* Do not speed. The faster you go, the more quickly a wrong-way driver can close on you.

* If you see a wrong-way driver heading at you, pull to the side of the road farthest from the car.

* Report wrong-way drivers immediately. It could save a life.

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