State transportation officials have launched an investigation into the deaths of three motorists who were killed in separate collisions within weeks of the reopening of the lower portion of the Angeles Crest (2) Highway in June.
Officials will take a closer look at the factors involved in those deaths, including speed, location, vehicle type, weather and road conditions, as part of the investigation, said Maria Raptis, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation.
The investigation — which will also include a look at the highway’s signage, traffic volume and enforcement — could take up to two months, Raptis said, after which officials will make a determination on whether changes can be made to make the twisting mountain highway safer.
Caltrans’ plans for the seven-mile stretch between La Cañada Flintridge and Angeles Forest Highway had always been “to restore it to what it was,” Raptis said, adding that crews installed appropriate roadway signage and metal guardrails to protect motorists.
“They have to be careful,” Raptis said. “It’s a mountain road.”
The highway fully re-opened June 3 after being closed for 17 months of reconstruction that required crews to bore down to an Angeles National Forest streambed after swaths of roadway were severely damaged by the Station fire and subsequent storms.
“People love that road,” Raptis said. “People have been waiting for it.”
But just a week after the highway’s reopening, a Pasadena motorist, who officials said was drunk, was killed when he lost control of car just six miles away from the Foothill (210) Freeway and crashed into a tree.
The second death occurred the same day when a Monterey Park man drove off the road west of Angeles National Forest Highway and plummeted nearly 700 feet down the mountainside.
“It was a deliberate act, as far we can tell,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Ming-Yang Hsu.
Nine days later, a third motorist was killed west of Cloudburst Summit, 32 miles north of the 210 Freeway.
The motorist, a Fontana man, was riding his motorcycle at a high rate of speed when he lost control and went off the mountain edge, Hsu said.
Thirteen other collisions occurred in June on the Angeles Crest and smaller feeder highways, according to the CHP. Seven resulted in injuries.
In June 2009 — less than a month prior to the highway’s closure during the fire — the CHP recorded 11 collisions on the highway, of which one was fatal. Another seven resulted in injuries.
While the three deaths in June occurred within weeks of the highway opening, Hsu said road conditions did not cause the collisions. He instead attributed the crashes to the influx of travelers.
“There is more traffic,” Hsu said. “It seems like people were anxious because it was closed for a long time and they just want to go up there.”
As in the case of the motorcyclist’s death, he said speed is the main cause of accidents on the highway.
Motorcyclists should be able to clear the highway’s twists and turns if they follow the posted speed limits, Hsu added. CHP motor officers, he noted, have been patrolling the highway every weekend and haven’t encountered any problems with the roadway.
Officer issued 16 citations to riders for speeding in May and another three for crossing the road’s double yellow lines, Hsu said.
While speed plays a role in collisions on the mountainous highway, motorists must also pay attention to the road, said Bill Nation, owner of Pro Italia, a motorcycle dealership in Glendale.
“It’s a road you have to respect,” he said. “People just don’t respect the road.”