California Highway Patrol makes limited return to Pacific Coast Highway

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Heavy traffic is seen flowing through Pacific Coast Highway on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 6. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT

Law enforcement making strides curbing speeding despite handful of accidents on PCH last Friday

After the Oct. 17 deaths of four Pepperdine students on Pacific Coast Highway, it didn’t take Malibu residents and officials long to demand an immediate increase in law enforcement patrols looking for speeders on the dangerous highway that runs through the middle of town. That public outcry has resulted in the return of the California Highway Patrol, which hasn’t conducted enforcement on PCH since the city incorporated in 1991. 

The stepped-up enforcement from the CHP, along with that of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, has shown promise with increased ticketing for speeding along with a few arrests. Still, the city was shaken this week by a few injury accidents, two eerily close to the scene of the quadruple fatality on what’s known as “Dead Man’s Curve.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. Christopher Soderlund explained the two major collisions that nearly closed down all lanes of PCH Nov. 10 near County Line and Neptune’s Net were technically in the Ventura County jurisdiction. Those injury accidents will not fall under Malibu crash statistics despite the proximity to town. Two separate collisions occurred that Friday morning just 30 minutes apart. In the second crash, a CHP vehicle that was blocking lanes assisting in the first crash was broadsided by another driver. Luckily no officer was inside the vehicle, but there were injuries to others involved. Five people were transported to hospitals in the two County Line crashes. One person was reported in critical condition Nov. 10.

On the same day near the site of the quadruple fatality, an eastbound driver was “distracted” according to Soderlund. The driver failed to negotiate the curve of the roadway, veered across the westbound lanes and hit two parked cars eerily close to the tragic Oct. 17 crash. One week before, two separate accidents occurred in nearly the same location. A mailbox at the scene was destroyed in one of those accidents. “Fortunately nobody was hurt in those,” Sunderland said.

Despite these latest collisions, there is hopeful news: Malibu has agreed to fund extra enforcement. 

Soderlund, the LASD Malibu liaison, called it a “multi-pronged approach.” Along with funding the California Highway Patrol on overtime hours currently, city officials are working on funding a permanent CHP presence in Malibu. Along with the return of the CHP, extra LASD deputies are being hired for increased enforcement. The department is identifying strategic times to add officers in the evenings when traffic dies down and speeds often pick up.Soderlund admitted the department is “stretched thin on staffing” but said he has had some success in adding extra shifts.

Malibu Public Safety Director Susan Dueñas explained that hiring CHP officers is taking shape with a short-term agreement, but the city is working on securing a longer-term permanent contract with CHP for a three-person task force.

“CHP has never had the personnel to do this before. We’ve asked. They don’t have the staffing,” Dueñas said. “In the current short-term contract CHP officers are working overtime. CHP cannot force their officers to work overtime. We have to cross our fingers that people sign up for it. We’re hoping the officers knowing the situation might be willing to work extra shifts. 

“The only reason it’s being made available now is because of this horrific event. It elevated the importance that much more. It’s really sad it takes the deaths of four young girls in order to get the help that we already knew we needed. This tragedy brought it to such a high level of importance that the governor intervened to make staff available.”

Dueñas said the longer-term CHP contract hopefully will be in place by January. In the meantime, a short-term contract of $50,000 equates to 40 CHP officer shifts. The shifts will also be allocated to be most effective.

Before the three Friday collisions, Malibu Mayor Steve Uhring said on Nov. 9 he has seen and heard a difference. The mayor reported hearing less PCH speeding noise from his home perched above the highway, and commented, “Boy, I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Soderlund reported the extra enforcement has effected results. A driver last week “doing 80 mph a half-mile from the Pepperdine crash and driving under the influence” was taken into custody. The driver was unlicensed as well. On Nov. 7, LASD conducted “Operation Safe Canyons.” The LACO Board of Supervisors-funded project issued 35 citations that night on Malibu Canyon roads, 25 for speeding. Since the Oct. 17 tragedy there have been a few citations of drivers going over 100 mph.

“We’re taking a zero-tolerance approach to speeding and reckless driving,” Soderlund said. 

Uhring remarked, “We’ve got more to do, but this demonstrates we’re making progress.”