Malibu man killed in PCH/Kanan crash

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William H. Weissberg, a 58-year-old Malibu attorney, was killed last Wednesday when a 16-wheeler double-trailer dump truck driven by Hovik Oganes Papikyan lost control on Kanan Dume Road and slammed into his car while he was heading east on Pacific Coast Highway. A sports utility vehicle driven by Los Angeles County Fire Department engineer Dave Wise was also hit. Weissberg’s gas tank exploded, creating a large fire.

Weissberg and Papikyan were killed instantly. Wise suffered a broken ankle and fractured rib. The ingestion of smoke also caused pneumonia and blurred vision. He will not be able to work for at least two months.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and fire officials said Papikyan lost control of his truck, which was full of gravel, while heading toward Pacific Coast Highway on Kanan at about 9:50 a.m. He did not use the three-foot-deep, graveled escape median. The truck, traveling an estimated 70 mph, slammed into Weissberg’s Mercedes-Benz as it crossed the light, which had just turned green, on Pacific Coast Highway and both vehicles flew into an embankment along with Wise’s SUV.

Oxnard resident Kirk Prouse, who was in a car behind the Mercedes, said, “It all happened so fast… then I saw an explosion … I would’ve been the next person.”

Wise, who works at Fire Station No. 68 in Calabasas and had been working the Canyon Fire, was on his day off and had been surfing. He was heading home when his car was hit. As Sheriff’s deputies Chris Chavez and Ed Harrold rescued Wise from his vehicle, a man from Waste Management Inc., who was driving behind Wise’s SUV, got out of his vehicle and put out the fire with an extinguisher he had in his truck.

Fire Capt. Bob Goldman of Station 70, who arrived at the scene and is Wise’s friend, said of the Waste Management worker, “I am absolutely grateful to him, and to the deputies.”

Officials said Wise would have died if they did not stop the fire and get him out of the vehicle.

Trucks weighing more than 8,000 pounds and those with trailers are not allowed to travel on Kanan. Papikyan’s truck violated both those rules. Sgt. Brooks, the head traffic officer at Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, said Papikyan was supposed to be driving on Malibu Canyon Road to access a delivery point near Zuma Beach, but that road was closed because of the Canyon Fire.

Brooks said had Papikyan driven into the safety median, which contains a sinking gravel material, his truck would have sunk, and not reached Pacific Coast Highway.

“There’s no question that would have happened,” Brooks said. “You just can’t get through that stuff.”

Brooks said Papikyan also attempted to make a right turn on Pacific Coast highway as he flew down Kanan, which Brooks said led to his truck slamming into the two vehicles.

This is not the first time that a truck driver has lost control on Kanan, leading to deaths. Some City Councilmembers at a meeting last Friday suggested more warning signs should be added to the road, including ones in Spanish or with pictures. Brooks said this would not help, and said Papikyan was Armenian and knew English.

“There are 21 signs between Agoura and PCH telling about the restriction, the (8 percent) grade, a brake check area and finally the escape median,” Brooks said.

He continued, “You can’t keep people from killing themselves if they ignore the rules of the road.”

Brooks said there was no reason to make signs in Spanish because one needs to be able to read English to get a truck driver’s license.

Kanan is under the jurisdiction of Malibu/Lost Hills deputies between Pacific Coast Highway and a one-mile stretch to the north. After that, it is patrolled by California Highway Patrol officers. Brooks said CHP officers frequently cite truck drivers for using the road. And he says Sheriff’s deputies have an increased presence in the area, stopping trucks when they see them.

But Malibu Park resident Susan Tellem, who said a friend of hers was killed at the Kanan/Pacific Coast Highway intersection under similar circumstances, said that enforcement is not good enough.

“It is shameful, that this issue hasn’t been dealt with,” Tellem said. “I see trucks on Kanan Dume all the time, and officials need to be very aggressive about stopping this.”