Success of Call Box Program Is in the Numbers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tracey Wyatt-Hazel considered herself lucky last November after a delivery truck dropped a large wooden pallet in front of her car on the freeway and caused her to swerve out of control.

For one thing, Wyatt-Hazel and her 9-month-old son, Brandon, were uninjured in the accident that left her Nissan with two flat tires after it hit the wooden block.

And after the crash, all Wyatt-Hazel had to do was step out of her car, which was stranded in the car-pool lane, to phone for help from a freeway call box.

This week, officials from the call box program announced that they had logged their 500,000th call since the first bright yellow call box was installed in March, 1987.

The county installed the call boxes to help drivers stranded on the roadways dial CHP and other emergency agencies. Through the CHP, Wyatt-Hazel was able to contact her husband and a tow truck to help remove the car.

"If it weren't for the call boxes, I would have been stuck in the middle of the highway crying because I didn't know what to do," Wyatt-Hazel said.

The program, run by the San Diego Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies, helps at least 14,000 motorists each month call for help by providing a roadside telephone, authorities said.

"There are a lot of ways to say a program is successful, but, in this case, the number of calls says it all," SAFE chairman Leon L. Williams said. "The freeway boxes are important because they enhance the safety of people on the highway."

Ideas for the project surfaced around 1984, when Williams approached a colleague about instituting a freeway phone system similar to the one in Los Angeles.

The project became a priority after Anne Catherine Swank, a University of San Diego honor student, was found slain in her car after apparently running out of gas, officials said. Two months after that attack, a 27-year-old woman said she was raped at gunpoint by a motorist after unsuccessfully trying to flag down police, Williams said.

Officials thought that, if the women had been able to get emergency services by phone, they might never have been hurt, Williams said.

Today, 1,375 of the solar-powered, cellular phones sit along the 300 miles of freeways in San Diego, linking motorists directly to CHP dispatchers who can get police, fire departments, paramedics and towing companies to the scene of an emergency.

The program is funded by a $1-per-year fee added to all motor vehicle registrations in the county, officials said.

But to motorists like Wyatt-Hazel, the program is priceless.

"It is good to know that, if you are in any kind of emergency on the road, they will be around," she said.

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