Crash prompts speeding inquiries in west Malibu

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City officials have asked the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department to add more patrols to west Malibu after a Nov. 27 crash that some say was caused by drag racing.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

Does west Malibu have a speeding problem? Some members of the city’s public safety commission say yes, and Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen at their request has asked the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station to consider adding more patrols to the area to deter speeders. Sheriff’s officials say they are not convinced speeding is a systematic problem on the west end of town, but they are looking at traffic data to determine if more patrols are needed.

Public Safety Commissioner David Saul, who lives in west Malibu, estimates that the average speed on Pacific Coast Highway west of Trancas Canyon Road is 70 miles per hour, despite speed limits of 50 mph.

“It’s an unfortunate thing that this end of Malibu is like an unpatrolled highway,” Saul said. “We have police out here. I’ve talked to the sheriffs about it, and they’re aware of the issue. But without somebody sitting here 24/7, the speeds up here are just very fast.”

Saul said he and fellow safety commissioner Chris Frost have made it a mission of theirs to get more patrols on the west side of town.

But sheriff’s officials say they must balance patrols based on accident data. Most of the patrols on PCH in Malibu are east of John Tyler Drive, where, according to sheriff’s officials, 75 percent of accidents occur.

“The purpose of traffic enforcement is to reduce accidents,” Traffic Sgt. Phil Brooks said. “And when we have 75 percent of our accidents in east Malibu, that’s where we’re going to put most of our patrols.”

Thorsen said he has spoken with the department and asked them to consider more patrols on the west end of town.

“I asked [them] if there’s a way to balance out a little more of the patrolling so that yes, we realize and recognize that a large portion of the vehicle accidents and vehicle traffic are on the east end, but also we need to have a presence and placing over on the west end as well,” Thorsen said.

Lt. Jim Royal, the department’s liaison to the City of Malibu, says the request has been noted and is under consideration. Royal said the department weighs a number of factors when prioritizing high-risk areas. Those factors include the number of collisions, the number of calls the department receives regarding traffic incidents and the overall crime rates in various areas of town.

“We’re constantly re-evaluating to make sure we’re most efficient,” Royal said. “We believe that our deployment is efficient, but when concerns are raised we’ll take a look at it and work with the city of course in addressing those potential concerns.”

Talk of a systematic speeding problem came to a head after a frightening collision Nov. 27 on PCH near Trancas Canyon Road. A Dodge Viper spun out of control, drifting into oncoming traffic and colliding with a Nissan Pathfinder carrying a woman and her two young children. The children were unharmed, but the woman suffered severe leg injuries, while the driver of the Viper was hospitalized with chest pain and bruising on his head.

One witness told The Malibu Times he thought the Viper had been drag racing when it lost control and collided with the Pathfinder.

Brooks told The Malibu Times there was evidence the Viper had been speeding, but said it was inconclusive whether or not it was racing. Witnesses told sheriff’s deputies the driver of the Viper had been driving alongside another Dodge Viper at a normal rate of speed, when he appeared to accelerate and lose control. The driver has not been charged with crimes relating to the crash.

The crash prompted concerns that drag racing is a problem in west Malibu, where there are fewer stop lights and fewer sheriff’s patrols. In 2006, a former Swedish game company executive crashed a rare Ferrari Enzo near the intersection of Decker Canyon Road and PCH after reportedly topping out at a speed of 194 mph.

Saul told The Malibu Times that while he felt speeding was a problem in the area, he did not know if it was popular for drag racing.

“I’m sure there’s people racing all the time, but I haven’t seen it personally,” Saul said. “I just know it’s a straight shot up here.”

Brooks said traffic data did not suggest drag racing was a problem in west Malibu, and added that the nature of the road was unlikely to appeal to racers.

“We don’t have any data on that [rumors of drag racing]. We don’t have many crashes on it,” Brooks said. “It’s not sports car fun. It’s less traffic and it’s wide open. It’s not an epidemic [of the] proportions of what people are alluding.”