The Santa Clarita street where "Fast and Furious" actor Paul Walker and his business partner died in a explosive car crash Saturday had its speed limit increased to 45 mph from 35 last year.
Santa Clarita city officials approved the speed limit increase as part of a regular five-year traffic survey mandated by state law, Gail Ortiz said about the stretch of Hercules Street. Ortiz said the city was unaware of any street racing activity in that area.
But law enforcement officials said Monday that the Rye Canyon area is known for street racing and high-powered driving.
California Highway Patrol Sgt. Rick Miler, who works in the Santa Clarita area, said Rye Canyon is a well-known place for street racers. The roar of engines echoes through the hills into areas the state agency patrols.
"We hear them street racing.... We can hear the cars like that for quite a distance. If you look at the streets themselves, there's tire marks all over the place," he said. "We can take action if we catch them."
Miler said the CHP does not patrol that area, "but if they come in our area, we go after them.”
Rye Canyon is relatively remote, and “tuners” -- or car enthusiasts -- take advantage of such areas on nights and weekends. "We do some checks on Friday and Saturday nights,” Miller said.
Sheriff's officials acknowledged that the area has been a problem -- but not recently. Authorities said they stepped up patrol of the area after receiving complaints. Very few collisions have been reported in the area, Sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker said.
Alan Lyon, who owns an accounting firm just around the corner from the crash site, said the street is very quiet, except at night.
“It’s a great road for racing your car up and down because it’s a sweeping curve," Lyon said. "If you come up here at 10 or 11 at night, you’ll hear the performance cars racing in the area.”
He said that if people are going to race, the street is probably the safest place to do it because it's so quiet and there are no pedestrians.
He said he frequently sees skid marks on the pavement.
Eyewitnesses so far have reported seeing only the red Porsche on the street when it hit a tree and a street lamp and burst into flames, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
“The only eyewitnesses to come forward saw a single speeding car,” Parker said.
Parker said the department had heard rumors about a street race in the area but had not been able to verify it.
Walker, 40, and his friend, whom witness Jim Torp identified as Roger Rodas, took a red Porsche out for a spin as a charity event held in support of Walker’s organization Reach Out Worldwide was winding down.
Torp said he heard a loud boom and knew his friends had been in an accident. The smoke from the crash was visible from Always Evolving Performance Motors, which Rodas owned, where car enthusiasts and supporters were still gathered -- some thinking it was just a fire on a nearby hill.
Torp's son Brandon, 28, grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed up the hill, followed by about 20 other workers, Torp said.
"There was nothing they could do," he said.
The Sheriff's Department continued to investigate the single-car crash Sunday but did not reveal any details on a possible cause.
Speed may have been a factor in the crash, which occurred about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, authorities said. Walker was apparently the passenger in the 2005 red Porsche Carrera GT.
The five-lane road up the hilly street has signs warning drivers to slow down as they approach an uphill curve near the site of the accident.
The car, which was reduced to an ashen hulk, had toppled a tree and a concrete lamp post, which crews from Southern California Edison removed Sunday. Looping tire tracks were visible on the asphalt nearby.
Investigators are looking at whether the tire tracks are related to the crash, but the investigation is ongoing, Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Gomez said.
Because the bodies were badly burned, dental records will be used to positively identify the victims, said Los Angeles County coroner's investigator Dana Bee.
A video taken moments after the accident shows black smoke billowing from the crumpled red Porsche, which caught fire, and debris scattered about the roadway.
"The car is in half. I can't tell if there is someone in there," one person on the video is heard saying.
Seconds later comes a response: "Yes, there is someone in there." At least one person heard on the video expresses concern that the burning car could explode.
Torp said his son saw his two friends burn in the car before firefighters arrived. Officials at the scene held back a childhood friend of Walker from pulling his body from the burning car, and firefighters had to pull Rodas’ young son away from the wreckage, Torp said.
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