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Ortega Highway is Deadly and Caltrans Does Nothing To Fix It

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James E. Ballidis
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On December 17, 2009 a young man died on a stretch of road from Orange County to Elsinore called Ortega Highway.  This is one of the most dangerous roads in California because of the narrow stretches, trucks passing through the zone and dirt shoulders that are not well maintained.  Mr. Moreira was travelling to Elsinore when his front right tire drifted off the pavement and onto the shoulder.  Unfortunately, to move back onto the road takes a tremendous effort.  If not done exactly correct, oversteer easily occurs.  In this case, Mr. Moreira oversteered and in the split second of reaction, he crossed the double line, and was struck causing his death. Expert investigation started 3 months after the death, and after a lengthy delay in preparation of the police report demonstrated a four inch drop off from pavement to the dirt shoulder, the equivalent of the height of a curb.  Arguing that the condition may not have been the cause of the accident, Caltrans defended the condition as not dangerous.

Unfortunately, Caltrans has done nothing since this tragic accident.  Additionally, the area is ripe for another accident unless Caltrans stops shirking their responsibilities and starts to correct the defective roadway conditions.

On narrow road surfaces, where there is a dirt shoulder, Caltrans is obligated to maintain a level shoulder, even with the roadway surface.  In the event that you or I drift a tire off the pavement, we can steer back on the roadway without incident.  However, if the tire falls off a ledge, the force taken to correct onto the highway is greater and the chance of oversteering occurs.  Think of a car tire falling off a curb at 40MPH.  You can imagine the force required to get back onto the pavement.

In Mr. Moreira’s case, there was evidence that this occurred by scuff marks on the inside front tire, and an unexplained oversteering maneuver that caused him to lose control of his vehicle move into the opposite lane of travel and become broadsided, killing him.

Tragically, today, I went to the scene.  Nothing has changes.  Caltrans does not care about you, your safety or reasonable protection of our roadways.  See this video of my observations.  Even after notice of this death, an expensive trial and the loss to a newlywed, they have done nothing to correct the defect.  It is a shame.  Caltrans just do your job.  If you don’t this posting will hopefully find its way into the hands of another victim, and as the evidence mounts, my hope is that Caltrans will be held accountable financially and politically.

Category: Car Accidents

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