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Crashes on Crest kill two

Two fatal crashes in a single day and four other wrecks last week on the recently reopened segment of Angeles Crest Highway above La Cañada Flintridge have prompted public safety officials to renew calls for slower, safer driving along the scenic mountain roadway.

On Friday — just one week after the highway’s June 3 reopening — Pasadena resident Julio Velasquez, 21, was killed shortly after 3 a.m. when he lost control of his car, careened into an embankment and collided with a tree while traveling toward La Cañada at a sharp bend roughly six miles above the Foothill (210) Freeway.

Later that same day, at about 4:30 p.m., a Monterey Park man in his 40s, also heading toward La Cañada, swerved off a straightaway less than two miles east of the previous crash, plunging nearly 700 feet down the mountainside.

The first driver is suspected of driving drunk. Investigators believe the second may have attempted suicide or suffered a sudden medical condition. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene, according to California Highway Patrol reports.


Since June 5, there have been four other crashes — all involving single vehicles losing control, three of them resulting in driver injuries — on the seven-mile segment of highway between La Cañada Flintridge and Angeles Forest Highway that had been closed for repairs for nearly 17 months, Officer Chris Powell of the CHP’s Altadena Station confirmed.

This spate of traffic collisions has occurred despite significant efforts by the agency to saturate traffic patrols on Angeles Crest — especially on weekends, when it is most often crowded with cars and motorcycle riders.

“We have anywhere from two to four additional [patrol] units up there. We want to make sure people are driving more defensively — focus on the road and what’s ahead, stay in your lane and take turns at an appropriate speed,” CHP Officer Ming-Yang Hsu said of the effort, which is funded by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Hsu contends that heightened patrols have most people slowing down, saying most citations so far on Angeles Crest have resulted from equipment violations, such as for inoperable brake or tail lights.


Hsu emphasized that Friday’s two fatal crashes likely involved circumstances not typical to most drivers on Angeles Crest.

CHP investigators suspect excessive speed was involved in Velasquez’s death, and a blood alcohol determination by the L.A. County Coroner’s Department is pending.

Capt. Bob Funke of Los Angeles County Fire Station 82 in La Cañada, a first-responder to the crash scene, said Velasquez’s body was discovered by friends with whom he had apparently been drinking earlier that night in the George’s Gap area of the Angeles National Forest, an isolated spot near Clear Creek.

“They said they were up at George’s Gap drinking, just being social, and the driver of the vehicle decided he wanted to go home. They tried to talk him out of driving, but to no avail,” Funke said. “About 35 or 40 minutes later, [the friends] were driving down and came upon [Velasquez’s] car embedded in the side of a hill. He had run head-on into a tree, and that’s how we found him.”

Funke said he saw no evidence that Velasquez had tried to brake prior to the crash.

Less is known about the death of the second man, whose name has yet to be released by coroner’s officials.

That crash was witnessed by an oncoming driver who saw the motorist suddenly veer off the road ahead of her and flagged down a Sheriff’s patrol car that happened to be in the area, said Sgt. Debra Herman of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station. Montrose Search and Rescue was called in to extricate the driver.

Sheriff’s deputies patrol Angeles Crest but defer to the CHP for traffic investigations.


“We’re still investigating whether or not it was done deliberately. There were some things going on in [the victim’s] personal life,” said Hsu. “Or, he could have been doing something in his car that made him turn accidentally. There was no debris — nothing that would force him to turn.”

It may also be possible the victim suffered a heart attack or stroke, Hsu said.

Mike Leum, a 19-year veteran of Montrose Search and Rescue who serves as the department’s reserve chief for mountain rescue, said he’s seen more than 100 cars go off the side of the Crest over the years — in most cases due to excessive speed, alcohol intoxication or driver distraction.

“It doesn’t take much up there to affect somebody’s ability to navigate that road,” said Leum. “But overall, the majority of accidents up there are preventable — usually caused by driver error. And now people are going to be more distracted because many are going up to see the effects of the Station fire, driving around with their head on a swivel and not watching the road.”