Trapped in Latigo Canyon

Latigo Canyon Rescue

The shocking story of a woman rescued after spending two days as a prisoner in her own vehicle in Malibu last week opened eyes around town about the dangers of driving on Malibu’s numerous twisting canyon roads.

Malibu resident Lisa McClelland and her husband John have a morning ritual of taking their four Brittany dogs out on Latigo Canyon Road to exercise before 9 a.m. 

With McClelland jogging with two of the dogs and John walking the other two, McClelland reached a hairpin curve in the road before John and stopped there, waiting for him to catch up.

It was at this curve where McClelland scanned the canyon.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people dump stuff off there — you see couches and other assorted debris. I walked down there and I saw a car door and I thought… well, I know this canyon like the back of my hand,” McClelland told The Malibu Times. She said she thought she saw a car and went down the road to investigate.

“I walked back down the hill and I got closer, but I still couldn’t quite make out what it was, but I …  saw skid marks and crushed-out gravel,” McClelland said. 

Then she saw the vehicle.

“I called down. I said, ‘Hello. Is anyone there?’ and I heard a very weak call for help,” McClelland described.

Inside the car was Jenifer Duron, a 40-year-old woman from Simi Valley, who had gone on a jog in Malibu two days previously and drove off the canyon on her way home.

McClelland then went on to describe the rescue effort, which involved her husband, a passing motorist, a neighbor on a mountain bike and numerous emergency personnel from L.A. County Fire and L.A. County Sheriffs, as well as the Malibu Search and Rescue (SAR).

Duron’s cell phone had no service from where her car settled, upright, 50 to 75 feet below the roadway, according to reports. Duron was conscious when rescuers reached her.

When all was said and done, Duron was airlifted to UCLA Hospital, where she spent the night and was released the next day. According to Malibu SAR Captain David Katz, Duron’s injuries included “numbness in one leg and bumps and bruises.”

When the dust settled, McClelland had the chance to assess her role in the rescue, speaking to a member of Malibu SAR named Erik.

“Erik asked me to give my report, which I did, and he told me I saved her life,” McClelland recalled. “I said, ‘No, you guys did the heavy lifting, I just made the 911 call.’”

According to Katz, making a 911 call is exactly the right move when a civilian comes across a stranded vehicle.

“Obviously, if you observe the vehicle go over the side, first thing you do is call 911,” Katz said.

Though there are vehicles that, because of variables such as rough terrain, have been left to rust in some of Malibu’s canyons, it is always the best bet to call emergency personnel just in case.

“If it looks like it’s a rusted out vehicle, it really shouldn’t be up to the person seeing the vehicle to make the determination,” Katz said. “It’s really best to call 911. Let us make the determination, and we can check and see if there’s a victim, alive or dead.”

Katz did state that those confident in their medical or rescue training could make the decision to go to the aid of victims they see in a stranded car, but it is always safer to wait for a team to arrive.

“If you believe you’re somebody that has some medical background or training and you can assist — and it would not be potentially injurious to yourself to go over the side — we do have good Samaritans that go over the side and help out until we get there,” Katz said. “I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that … I think the best thing to do is call 911 and stay where you are.

“If you become a victim yourself, it doesn’t help us.”

Though Katz stressed it’s best to stay where you are, in remote areas such as Latigo Canyon, sometimes it’s impossible to place a call.

“There was no cell service at that location; I couldn’t even get cell service on my phone,” Katz said.

McClelland was forced to hitch a ride with a stranger back to her home in order to alert emergency personnel of Duron’s crashed car, which also accounts for why the victim was unable to call for help following the crash.

When it comes to McClelland’s daily jogs, she said not much will likely change despite what she witnessed last Wednesday.

“Just be aware of your surroundings, be alert, and if you see something, check it out,” McClelland advised. “But it’s not going to alter what I do at all. It’s my routine every morning and it has been for years; I love the beauty of the canyon and I’m going to continue to do what I do.”

According to Katz, it’s impossible to anticipate going over the side of a canyon, an extremely rare event. However, there are some safety precautions all drivers should take.

“Having energy bars and at least a liter or two of water that are accessible inside the cab of your vehicle are always helpful incase of an emergency,” Katz said. “If you’re driving in cold weather, through snow or areas with snow, it’s always good to have extra clothing and blankets in case you get caught in a snowstorm. And it’s also good to carry a whistle.”