Inaugural “Be Safe on PCH week” at Malibu High School raises awareness

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(From left) Sheriff's Captain Jennifer Seetoo; CHP Lt. Matthew Zane; Cognitive-Behavioral Specialist Robert Cohen; Bridget Thompson, the roommate of the four Pepperdine students killed on PCH in October 2023; "21 Miles in Malibu" producer and safety advocate Michel Shane, and LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath take part in a panel discussion about traffic safety on Pacific Coast Highway following a screening of "21 Miles in Malibu." Photos by Samantha Bravo/TMT

’21 Miles in Malibu’ screening and discussion event starts ongoing conversation about the perils of PCH

By Barbara Burke 

Special to The Malibu Times

Safe on PCH, a Malibu nonprofit organization, presented the “21 Miles in Malibu” screening and discussion at Malibu High School Theater on May 1. The event was hosted by the MHS and Malibu Middle School Parent Teacher Association, Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, and the Malibu Association of Realtors.

MHS Principal Patrick Miller began the meeting by lamenting the long, tragic history of all-too-frequent accidents on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. 

“Over the past 17 years I’ve worked at MHS, accidents on PCH have hit too close to home and too often,” Miller said. “From the time when a former MHS student and a current MHS student hit and killed a grandmother of MHS students, to other accidents involving MHS students, incidents involving PCH are too frequent.” 

Miller recounted that after Emily Shane, 13, a MMS seventh-grader, was tragically murdered in 2013 by a wild and irresponsible driver who was excessively speeding on PCH, the Shane family has stayed involved in MHS and MMS.

“Ellen and Michel Shane and their family have shown the school kindness and good deeds,” Miller said.  “They support creative writing at MMS promotion every year.” 

The family also supports the wider community with their Emily Shane Foundation, which provides tutoring to middle school children who otherwise could not afford to receive such support, Miller noted.

“After Emily Shane’s death, parents and community members organized Safer PCH, a grassroots nonprofit effort that has accomplished some changes, most notably, the relocation of a bus stop and a new turn lane at Morning View and PCH,” Miller said. “However, the most important change we need to address as we strive to solve the safety issues on PCH is to change human behavior.” 

The screening of “21 Miles of Malibu,” produced by Michel Shane, was part of the inaugural Be Safe on PCH Week for teenagers at MMS and MHS, according to PTSA President Kevin Keegan. 

“The week was an outcome of the effort of the Malibu PTSA which made school safety a priority this year, with a boost from the Malibu-Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department which has prioritized school safety in 2024, as well as from Supervisor [Lindsey] Horvath’s efforts to support the city with PCH safety improvements.” Keegan said. “Because of the subject matter, we recommended parental discretion and for students watching it to be older than 16 to attend the screening.” MHS freshmen watched the documentary film in special classes with teacher facilitation, he added. 

“The focus of the screening is on education,” Keegan added. “We sought to ensure that the experience is impactful and highlights lessons that parents and students can take away.

“Our new Schools Safety Committee knows that what happens on one of our local campuses affects all school campuses in Malibu, and that is why we felt it was so important to include Bridget Thompson, a Pepperdine student — hearing her perspectives regarding PCH issues since the tragic event on PCH in October was important.”

For its part, the Malibu Association of Realtors helped support the event because its members seek to foster efforts to make Malibu safer.

“The idea to sponsor this event was conceived in one of our board meetings because we have the utmost concern for the safety of our students and of our community,” Susan Manners, executive director of MAR, said. “Kelly Pessis, MAR’s strategic planning and membership director, carried the ball and made it all happen!”

A life-and-death conversation: The PCH hazards statistics astound 

“21 Miles in Malibu” is difficult to watch as it includes intense PCH accident scenes and heart-wrenching interviews of those grieving lives tragically lost on the PCH, including the daughter of the movie’s producer, Michel Shane. The movie is a must-see for parents of teens beginning to drive on the PCH and in the canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains, event organizers emphasized. The movie is also a traffic safety conversation starter that is so necessary in Malibu, as discussed by the panelists speaking after the screening and attendees alike.

Lindsey Horvath, the Los Angeles County Supervisor who represents Malibu, moderated the discussion between panelists Sheriff’s Capt. Jennifer Seetoo, California Highway Patrol Lt. Matthew Zane, Cognitive-Behavioral Specialist Robert Cohen, Safety advocate and movie producer Michel Shane, and Bridget Thompson, the roommate of the four Pepperdine students who tragically lost their lives on PCH last Fall.

“Forty-three percent of first-year drivers nationwide are involved in an accident, and 37 percent of second year drivers are involved in an accident,” Cohen stated. “The number one cause of death for teens aged 13 to 19 is motor vehicle accidents and what is needed most is a change in driving behavior — everyone needs to slow down!” 

A consummate bottom-liner with a “we will get this thing done ASAP” approach to addressing challenges in Malibu, Seetoo leveled with the parents in the audience.

“Parents — we need your help!” Seeto stated emphatically. “There is an app to monitor how fast your kids are driving — please get and use that app! Further, kids’ brains are not fully developed until they are about 26 years old — please, please don’t give your kids a sports car that can speed at 100 miles an hour and, in some cases, even up to 200 miles per hour! Finally, pull your child’s license if they speed.”

When Horvath asked him what advice he would give to parents and kids who are beginning drivers, a somber Shane responded, “Parents, you never want to walk in my shoes — the loss of a child never goes away.”

Shane continued, “Teenagers, think about the people who love you and who will survive you if you have a terrible accident — how would they feel?”

The flawed litmus test for changing dangerous road designs causing PCH fatalities 

The most startling thing discussed at the meeting — indeed, a thing that audience members and panelists found totally appalling and unacceptable — was when Duffy Marcellino, the bereaved older sister of Terry Marcellino, 52, who was tragically killed in 2012 on PCH by Vista Point in Ventura County near Pt. Mugu State Park, spoke. 

“My sister was killed when a distracted woman who had passed by Leo Carillo made an illegal turn and killed Terry — my sister never stood a chance,” Duffy said. “We have advocated for delineators to be installed in the area where the tragedy happened, as they prohibit turns when they are installed.”

Mustering strength and fighting through her fury, Duffy said, “However, we’ve been told that a total of three deaths — my sister’s and two subsequent deaths at that part of the highway are ‘not enough’ to justify installation of the delineators!”

A totally silent, stunned audience gasped en masse. An overwhelmed and appalled Horvath said, “That a certain number of deaths is used as the litmus test for installing a life-saving measure is totally unacceptable — contact my office immediately and we will help to address the problem ASAP!”   

Despite the somber and overwhelming statistics about PCH fatalities attributable to speeding and excessive traffic, panelists nevertheless found grounds to make steps to address the PCH safety issues.

Shane noted that he thinks that real, measurable changes can be made with regard to the speeding problems.

“If we address excessive speeding on PCH in the same way that we attacked drunk driving a few years ago and in the same way that we informed citizens about the dangers of smoking, we can help people change their speeding behaviors,” Shane said. 

Seetoo focused on efforts in Sacramento to pass a law allowing Malibu to install speed cameras along PCH.

“The governor has heard you in the public,” She said. “I need you to contact your elected representatives to demand a safer PCH.” 

Seetoo explained that there are two pending laws that would help greatly — one is to allow speed cameras in Malibu and the other significantly increases penalties for excessive speeding.

Zane noted that CHP is aggressively ticketing speeders and, when appropriate, officers can impound vehicles that belong to speeders. 

“We need the public’s help,” Seetoo noted, adding that when residents observe excessive speeding, they should call 911 directly and for less excessive speeding infractions, they should call the Lost Hills Station at (818) 878-1808.

“If any residents want to serve as volunteer officers, please contact my office.” Seetoo added, noting that an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed to monitor speeding and erratic driving on PCH as the summer tourist season begins.

Malibu Times chatted with panelists as attendees dispersed. Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Doug Stewart expressed optimism for the passage of the bill proposing speed cameras on Malibu’s segment of PCH.

“The speed camera bill, SB 1297, advanced out of the transportation committee and now goes to the appropriations committee on May 16.” Stewart said. “We are hopeful the committee will also pass it, especially because there are no state appropriations needed to fund the cameras as the City of Malibu is paying the entire cost.”  

Seetoo emphatically said, “Give me technology to help solve this problem! Speed cameras can help officers enforce the speed limits!” 

With Malibu High School graduation approaching, Manners stated, “As realtors, we in MAR are deeply concerned for the safety of students and the community, so we find ways to promote safety however we can, including sponsoring Malibu High’s Grad Night which allows our students to celebrate graduating in a safe and sober way.”   

Be Safe on PCH Week will be an annual event sponsored by the PTSA and that organization will support and offer advice to Michel Shane and his company, Shane Gang Pictures, to assist with its educational initiatives, Keegan said. 

“The event was an extremely well-balanced, informative and impassioned discussion by all participants and the community,” audience member Kelly Pessis said. 

Other attendees vowed to doggedly persevere in their efforts to improve highway and canyon road safety in and near Malibu.  

“Stay alert! Talk and text later!” said Merrill May, a stalwart and unrelenting champion of efforts to address speeding. “Get home safely!”