Don't blame the Crest, officials say

Despite another fatal crash on Angeles Crest Highway over the weekend — the fourth since the lower part of the highway reopened in June — California Highway Patrol officials say it's drivers who are dangerous, not the road.

On Saturday, Bellflower resident Edgar Martinez, 18, was killed when he entered a curve at about 45 mph but failed to turn, hitting a mountainside and flipping his car, according to CHP Officer Ming Hsu.

Witnesses told officers there was no indication he was traveling at an excessive speed, and Hsu said there were no indications that drugs or alcohol were involved.

“Maybe it was inattention, playing with his radio or something; he didn't see the curve in the roadway until it was too late,” Hsu said.

Kelly Markham, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation, said all fatal accidents on roads managed by the agency, including those that have occurred on Angeles Crest Highway this year, are investigated. Officials look at factors including speed, vehicle type, weather and road conditions, as well as signage and enforcement.

Despite the recent spate of fatal accidents on the mountainous pass, Mike Leum, reserve chief of Search and Rescue for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said the road is safer since it reopened three months ago.

“There's a lot more safety features now than there were prior,” said Leum. “If you drive the road, you'll see new berms that are higher and they're angled in such a way I think it's designed to keep cars on the road.”

That vehicles in three of the accidents managed to stay on the road showed the impact of the safety features, he added.

In a fatality that police said was a possible suicide, a car went off the road and over the edge on June 10, killing its driver, a 48-year-old Monterey Park man.

“Most places, you have an opportunity to go hundreds of feet over the side. Having just one of four going over the side says to me there's safety features at work,” Leum said.

Hsu said that the important factor was drivers being more careful.

“I'm sure you could find a lot of commuters going across the mountain to the high desert and they'll tell you they drive it every day and there's crazy driving out there,” he said. “There's hundreds of vehicles going across that road with no problem, it's these drivers that are careless getting into collisions.”

All of the accidents have been attributed to driver error, including driving under the influence and speeding, Hsu added.

“If you're going too fast, no matter how good of a driver you are, you're not going to make that curve,” he said. “People just have to respect the mountain, respect the curves. And they're not doing that.”

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