November 26, 2014

Rash of Vehicle Collisions Hit Topanga

 

An alarming increase in roadside accidents, including two violent hit and run incidents, has plagued the Canyon for the past two months.

PHOTO BY ANNEMARIE DONKIN, MESSENGER, 2012©

Rash of Vehicle Collisions Hit Topanga

Old Topanga Canyon Road at Summit to Summit where Gerlinde Gautrey was struck and injured by a speeding hit-and-run motorcyclist on Aug. 21. This is only one of several accidents on Topanga’s roadways.



Gerlinde Gautrey is still recovering from her Sept. 4 knee surgery as a result of the injuries she sustained after a speeding motorcyclist struck her on Old Topanga Canyon Road last month.

Mindful of oncoming traffic, Gautrey was returning to her car at about dusk on Aug. 21 after hiking with her two dogs at Summit to Summit Motorway when she was knocked down by a motorcyclist who also hit and killed her nine-month-old German Shepherd puppy.

While she lay helpless in the middle of the road, Gautrey said that the motorcyclist walked over to her, uttered a few obscenities, picked up his bike and sped off again toward the Valley.

“He must have known that he didn’t just hit a dog,” she said. “I asked him for help…he may not have heard, but you would think he would stop because he had damage on his bike as well.”

Cars that the motorcycle had just passed “at excessive speed,” according to witnesses, were now coming up the road.

The cars stopped, people called 9-1-1, and one woman, a Topanga resident, took Gautrey’s nine-month-old puppy, Sophie, to the emergency vet, where it later died. Pat Tomlinson of Topanga Pet Resort got a call and boarded the other dog, Bruce, overnight.

“I handed my cell phone to one of the bystanders to call my family,” said Gautrey, who was soon airlifted to UCLA hospital and diagnosed with a concussion and torn ligaments in her right knee.

Yet Gautrey expressed frustration regarding the California Highway Patrol’s (CHP) investigation.

“I am really annoyed right now,” she said. “The CHP has really dropped the ball, and there is nothing in the report that talks about fingerprinting. This is three weeks after the accident; you’d think they could get prints off the mirror and visor of the helmet. I have to say they are very friendly and try to help, but since it is a hit-and-run felony, you would think they would try harder to find this person.”

“We did recover fragments at the scene and they were sent out to the Sheriff's crime lab for analysis,” said Leland Tang, Public Information Officer, State of California Department of Highway Patrol West Valley Area. “The chances of finding a match are very slim.”

Gautry also wants a more long-term solution to the problem of hit-and-run drivers. “I want him off the road,” she said. “He is totally out of line in terms of the speed and leaving the scene with a person and dog lying there asking for help; that is pretty obscene.”

Gautrey, who lives on Highvale Trail, said she and her dogs have been hiking at Summit to Summit for years but the situation has recently changed.

“I used to park on the Motorway side but that parking was taken away six months ago; now you have to park across the road,” she said. “A lot of people take those trails; there’s hardly any evening where people don’t take their kids and dogs. It’s a really well used hiking area, but you really cannot avoid cars going over 70 miles an hour.”

Ultimately, Gautrey proposed solutions: better signage on Old Canyon, install motion activated flashing road crossings, change the parking at Summit to Summit so that people, kids and dogs don’t have to cross the road to hike, and install speed traps throughout Topanga.

“Speed traps work. There has to be something done to make this a less attractive place to race,” she said. “If something good can come out of this, that would be great; something preferable to misery.”

HIT AND RUN NEAR VIEWRIDGE

Around noon on Sept. 1, Ed Morris of Studio City was cycling north on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, just south of the View Ridge turnout, when he was struck by what is believed to be an older model (between 1996 – 2000) Land Rover.

Morris was air lifted to UCLA Westwood Trauma Center and, at press time, he was recovering but remained in intensive care with internal injuries, broken bones and other unspecified injuries.

The case is being investigated by the CHP, who determined the vehicle model could also be a Discovery or Range Rover. Parts of the right front headlight or turn signal lamps were recovered by the CHP. No paint was evident on Morris’ bicycle.

“It’s a specialized vehicle if they are looking for it,” said Captain Kevin Lalor, of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department Station 69, who responded to the call. “It’s not a cheap car and can only be fixed at a few places; the only thing I can tell you is it seems like there are more people fleeing the scene than normal.”

“We did get a headlight assembly from a 1996-2000 model year Land Rover’s right side,” said Officer Leland Tang. “We have searched the local area and found no matches to a vehicle like that.

Also, we contacted all the Land Rover dealerships to look out for anyone ordering that part and to notify us immediately. They have all agreed to cooperate.”

Morris’ wife, Cynthia, speaking for the family, is asking Topanga residents who may have information about the vehicle or the driver to please contact CHP Investigating Officer Covington at (818) 888-0980.

“I know that the Topanga community and its people are wonderful. We would appreciate any help they can give.”

Then she appealed to the hit-and-run driver: “Grace and redemption come from within. We encourage you to turn yourself in,” she said.

PICKUP TRUCK WIPEOUT ON OLD TOPANGA

“Is it going to take someone killed to pay attention to this?” said Mary Colvig Rhodes, Publisher of the Messenger. “Every night at about 11:30 you can hear them speeding on Old Topanga; God only knows how fast they are going because they know there is nobody here to stop them; I am living on the side of a freeway.”

To illustrate her point, on Sunday, Sept. 9, Rhodes was awakened at 3 a.m. to the sounds of a huge crash on Old Topanga at Red Rock right in front of her house.

“A young man, who was drunk and driving back from a big party on Happy Trail, hit the guard rail on the bridge across the street, slid and hit the guard rail on my side, took out mailboxes, the “Turtle Crossing” sign and finally stopped in the middle of the road in front of my gate,” she recalled.

Rhodes said Station 69 was the first responder, while it took the California Highway Patrol 1 to 1 ½ hours to arrive. (Rhodes said the CHP officers were at the Van Nuys jail at the time of the 9-1-1 calls).

When the fire department arrived, they reported seeing a young man, 20, wandering in the middle of the road after his pickup truck was totaled.

“Fortunately his injuries were minor, he was taken to West Hills Hospital and later arrested for DUI,” Rhodes said. “If you look at the guardrail on my side of the road he is a very lucky guy.

Captain Lalor said that as a result of this incident, the young man might lose his college baseball scholarship.

“While he was lying in the ambulance after we completed his paperwork, he asked us to make sure we retrieved his baseball equipment from his totaled truck,” Lalor said.

OTHER CANYON ACCIDENTS

Capt. Lalor reported that a bicyclist recently hit a deer on Tuna Canyon and had to be flown out to the UCLA Westwood Trauma Center.

The fire captain also reported that a local resident “who knows the roads” recently totaled his Tesla in a collision with a second car in front of the Topanga Library.

“It was in pieces all over the street,” Lalor said. “It closed the road for probably an hour or two.”

On Friday, Sept. 14, around 7:30 p.m., another accident occurred at Entrado and Topanga Canyon Blvd.

No details were forthcoming at press time, but the Messenger will continue to report on this issue as information becomes available.

This latest accident seems to underscore Captain Lalor’s estimates that Topanga has an average of at least one accident per day within its 36 square miles of roads.

“I have been here two years,” Lalor said. “I don’t see a change excep