Racing with death on Sunset : Scenic Road Stirs Impulse to Speed

Times Staff Writer

He is between 17 and 25 years old, drives a Volkswagen GT, a Datsun or a Toyota, and he thinks he's practicing for the Grand Prix.

That's how police describe the average high-speed driver on Sunset Boulevard. The driver is aggressive and is not speeding because he is in a hurry but because the winding scenic corridor from downtown to the ocean seems to bring out his most aggressive traits.

He is apt to be seen between about 8 p.m. and early morning, when traffic has thinned out.

During 1983 this driver figured prominently in 232 accidents reported on Sunset between Beverly Hills and Pacific Coast Highway. During 1984 four young people were killed on or approaching Sunset. The fatalities all occurred in the Palisades between Evans Road (a private road just east of Will Rogers State Park) and Palisades Drive.

- On June 24, Paul Campbell, described by police as "in his late teens or early 20s," was returning from the beach, a passenger on a motorcycle driven by a friend. He was killed on Sunset near Monaco Drive when he was struck by a drunk driver who had drifted across the double yellow line, police said.

- On Nov. 11, 19-year-old Julie Cambigue of Pacific Palisades and 20-year-old Craig Farley of Los Angeles died when the car in which they were riding crashed into a tree on Sunset near Brooktree Road. Police said the Volkswagen Rabbit was traveling at about 85 miles per hour.

- On Nov. 16, 16-year-old Michelle Meeker, a student at Palisades High School, was killed when the 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco in which she was traveling hit a tree as it sped down Bienvenida Avenue toward Sunset.

Although all of the fatalities occurred in Pacific Palisades, police said the entire boulevard west of Beverly Hills is dangerous because of curves and poorly marked intersections.

Officers said they consider the most dangerous spots on Sunset to be at or near Bundy Drive, Barrington Avenue and Carmelina Avenue in Brentwood, Charing Cross Road in Bel-Air and Will Rogers Road in the Palisades.

Part of the effort to reduce the accident rate on Sunset involves the city's five-year proposal to improve the boulevard.

Widening and realignment is planned at Allenford Avenue and at seven other locations along Sunset during the next five years: Barrington Place to Granville Avenue, east of Saltair Avenue to Stonehaven Way, east of Bellagio Way to west of Veteran Avenue, east of Beverly Glen Boulevard to west of Bel-Air Road, east of Evans Road to west of Evans Road, east of Las Lomas Avenue to Las Casas Avenue, and Brooktree Road to Pacific Coast Highway. In addition, portions of Sunset from Bel-Air to the coast have been resurfaced recently.

Palisades High School has attacked the problem through its Safe Ride program, which provides a team of student volunteer drivers to pick up students unable to drive home safely after drinking.

Alcohol and driving at high speed are the major causes of accidents on Sunset, according to police.

They said almost all of the cars traveling on Sunset between Bel-Air and the coast exceed the 35-mile-an-hour speed limit and some use the highway for a race track.

Officer Bruce Godbout of West Bureau Traffic said the average speed on Sunset is between 40 and 50 miles an hour. Some cars have been clocked at 100. In some areas the speeder does not see a stop sign or traffic light until he rounds a curve--and it's too late to stop.

Want More Signs

"Speed is probably the No. 1 problem on Sunset," Officer Tom Bailey said. "That and lack of signs. I would like to see (Councilman Marvin) Braude put a little pressure on to get some signs at Evans Road saying 'Curve Ahead, Danger'. That part of the road is called Deadman's Curve.

"I'd like to get some speed bumps across the road between Capri and Amalfi so you would know you're coming up to a stop sign."

Police say signs are needed on all curves of Sunset from Mandeville Canyon Road to Pacific Coast Highway. "That whole area between Mandeville Canyon and PCH, except for a few little areas where there are straightaways, is all curves and dangerous," Bailey said

Bailey said the proposed speed bumps (or "modulators") would be similar to the bumps between lanes on the freeway, just enough to remind the driver to slow down a little.

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