Holiday Auto Toll at 6; LAX Surprised by Light Traffic

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At least six people were killed on Los Angeles County roads and freeways as the Thanksgiving weekend drew to a close, including three family members in a pickup truck who were struck in a head-on collision with a compact car driven by a teen-age girl suspected of drunk driving, the California Highway Patrol reported Sunday.

At Los Angeles International Airport, officials prepared Sunday for peak road-clogging conditions as 250,000 travelers headed home after the holiday, the busiest travel period of the year. But by late Sunday evening, the expected traffic jam had not materialized.

"It's a lot lighter than we expected," said Lt. Ruben Martinez of the Airport Police Department. "We put on additional officers, but I don't think we're going to need them. I don't know where everybody is . . . they're not here."

Statewide, the CHP and local police departments reported 53 traffic fatalities--four less than last year--between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. Sunday, the latest available figures.

In addition, 451 people were arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in the county as part of the CHP's stepped-up holiday patrols on interstate highways.

The worst traffic collision in the county during the holiday weekend killed two men and a woman and injured 8 others, including a 17-year-old Azusa girl who was arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving, in a spectacular head-on crash in La Puente, said California Highway Patrol Officer Andy Gutierrez.

A 46-year-old La Puente man, a 38-year old Salinas man and a 70-year-old La Puente woman were killed in the cab of a Toyota pickup when the vehicle was stuck by the speeding compact car at Sunset Avenue and Amar Road about 9 p.m. Saturday, Gutierrez said.

The three dead and seven of the injured, who were sitting in the covered bed of the truck, were believed to be related. Officials declined to release identities pending notification of the next of kin. The seven, with minor to moderate injuries, were being treated at three nearby hospitals.

The driver of the car, who was traveling south on Sunset at about 55 m.p.h., lost control of her car as she sped through a yellow traffic light and careened into the pickup, which was headed north, Gutierrez said.

The identity of the girl, who was hospitalized with major injuries, was not released because of her age.

Early Sunday morning, rain appeared to be the cause of two fatal accidents, the CHP reported, including one on a transition road between the Foothill and Simi Valley freeways and a second on the San Bernardino Freeway in East Los Angeles.

Travelers at LAX faced few traffic or parking troubles throughout the day Sunday, the culmination of a frenzied holiday weekend that saw 650,000 air passengers pass through the terminal gates, said airport spokesman Lee Nichols.

"I was prepared for the worst, but it really hasn't been that bad," said Judie Richards, 41, of Los Angeles, as she waved goodby to her Las Vegas-bound daughter on Sunday afternoon.

Richards, who works as a reservations clerk for Northwest Airlines, said that she followed her own advice and showed up an hour and a half early for her daughter's 1 p.m. flight.

Airport police and parking officials said they were preparing for traffic backups along Century Boulevard and long lines at the exits from parking lots, a common sight on Thanksgiving weekends.

About 25 additional parking clerks and 12 extra officers were on hand to keep traffic moving, Nichols said.

However, traffic flowed smoothly on Century Boulevard, with only minor slowing at one of the airport's 10 terminals, airport police said.

Times staff writer Hector Tobar contributed to this story.

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