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Alcohol Possible Factor in Freeway Pileup

March 29, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

A suspected drunk driver allegedly caused a produce truck to jackknife early Friday across the Ventura Freeway, shutting down all lanes and backing up traffic for miles across the San Fernando Valley during the morning rush hour.

Five people suffered minor to moderate injuries in the chain reaction of high-speed crashes that involved the big rig and four cars and resulted in the spilling of 40 gallons of diesel fuel on the pavement, according to the California Highway Patrol.

"The situation could have been so much worse," said Officer Leland Tang, CHP spokesman. "It had all the makings of something really disastrous."

The driver alleged to have caused the accident, Lisa J. Feingold, 36, was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence, according to the CHP. Officers who arrested the Bel-Air woman said she smelled strongly of alcohol.

Feingold, who suffered cuts and bruises, posted $50,000 bail and left jail Friday morning before the freeway completely reopened, Tang said.

She was driving west on the Ventura Freeway near Woodman Avenue in Sherman Oaks about 3:45 a.m. when she sideswiped an 18-wheel tractor-trailer several times, witnesses told police. The impact caused the truck driver to swerve left, lose control and barrel through the freeway's center divider.

The truck's trailer, which was half-loaded with watermelon and corn for Ralphs Grocery Co., spun into the eastbound lanes and fell over on its side, with its fiberglass roof facing oncoming traffic. Three cars crashed into it.

"It was like driving into a stack of mattresses," Tang said, explaining that the steel underside of the trailer would have delivered the impact of a brick wall. "If the trailer had been facing in the other direction, we would have had fatalities."

Most of the victims suffered cuts and bruises; one driver complained only of pain, Tang said.

To clear the wreckage and clean up the spill, authorities sealed off the freeway in both directions between Woodman and Van Nuys Boulevard until just after 8 a.m.

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