Familiar Newport Beach Figure Dies in Crash


A 74-year-old man was killed and his wife was critically injured when their car collided with a tractor-trailer hauling a paving machine on MacArthur Boulevard, prompting authorities to close the road overnight and snarling Monday morning traffic for miles.

Officers waited for daylight to more thoroughly investigate the scene of the wreck, one of two big-rig crashes in the county that played havoc with rush hour traffic Monday morning.

Howard Melum of Costa Mesa was pronounced dead at Irvine Medical Center shortly after the Sunday night crash, which occurred just south of Newport Coast Road. June Melum, 76, remained in critical condition in a coma late Monday.


The Melums had owned Hank’s Ocean Front Cafe--a popular fish and chips restaurant near the Newport Pier--for three decades before selling it and retiring to the desert some years ago, their daughter-in-law said.

Hank’s was an institution to beach-goers in town for years, said Newport Beach research librarian June Pilsitz.

“It was fish and chips, real fast and real cheap and they’d just sling it out,” she said. “I remember taking my kids there all the time in the 1970s.”

About five years ago, the Melums had returned to Orange County and June Melum started work as a crossing guard in Costa Mesa. She was to start her first day at a Newport Beach crosswalk Monday.

“They were very well-loved people,” said the couple’s daughter-in-law, who asked that her name be withheld. “They are old-time Newport Beach people.”

Investigators said it appeared the Melums’ 1989 Ford Escort ran into the paving machine Sunday at about 9:15 p.m. as the driver of the tractor-trailer was positioning his rig in the center divider.


The paving machine was protruding into southbound lanes as the truck started turning across center lanes, Irvine Sgt. Timothy Smith said .

“According to the driver, he had on all his running lights and headlights and he said he had on some rear floodlights too,” Smith said.

Smith said the lighting works on the truck, but investigators must interview witnesses to determine if all the lights were on when the accident occurred.

After that crash, another car struck the Melums’ car, but the driver of that vehicle was not injured, Smith said.

Officers closed MacArthur Boulevard between Bison Avenue and Jamboree Road and rerouted traffic from the southbound Corona Del Mar Freeway to Jamboree Road.

Authorities did not reopen those roadways until 9:40 a.m. Monday.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, James Ellison, 37, of Aliso Viejo, was dropping off the paving machine for work on the Transportation Corridor Agencies toll road, Smith said. No one has been cited in connection with the crash and the investigation is continuing.


The road where the crash occurred is slated to be torn up within the next three weeks as part of the toll-road construction, Irvine Police Lt. Michael White said.

The 12-hour closure was necessary for police to conduct a thorough investigation of the crash before evidence disappears when the road is demolished, he said. That required waiting for daylight.

“Especially at night when you have a fatal, you really can’t see skid marks and turning marks until you have daylight,” said Smith.

The closures clogged traffic for miles around in Newport Beach and Irvine. Jamboree Road was transformed into a bumper-to-bumper parking lot south to Pacific Coast Highway, and motorists who tried to escape the crawl and turn onto Eastbluff Drive also came to a standstill, Newport Beach police said.

The congestion trapped hundreds of students heading for Corona Del Mar High School on Eastbluff Drive, and teens could be seen getting out of their parents’ cars on Jamboree Road and heading to school on foot.

“They were running,” said Newport Beach Sgt. Mike McDonough. “The closer they got to school the more they were running. They weren’t realizing this is probably one of the only excuses [for being late] that will actually work.”


At least 100 of the high school’s 1,400 students were late, said school secretary Paula Burton.

“I know the attendance office was taking a lot of calls,” she said.