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A quest for street safety

Transportation: Man looks for changes to Sierra Highway after wife suffers a nearly fatal crash

Posted: August 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Cars pass by concerned citizen Bob Skerstonas on Friday as he stands near memorial markers on Sierra Highway on a stretch of road in Santa Clarita that has seen many auto-involved fatalities.

 

As Bob Skerstonas stands over a white cross hammered into a roadside cluster of dusty flowers, a roaring 18-wheel truck sends sand over his cowboy boots.

It’s a weekday afternoon on Sierra Highway, and the man trying to explain highway danger halts his story whenever passing trucks drown him out.

“My wife had an accident,” he said, his voice suddenly loud.


It’s quiet for a moment, and horses heard moving slowly in the sun-dappled corral across from the roadside memorial stand as a reminder that the Santa Clarita Valley’s history is rooted in farm life and ranching — a history still quite evident north of Canyon Country on Sierra Highway.


It’s a lifestyle that’s rapidly changing, says Skerstonas, who holds in his hand the California Highway Patrol data on Sierra Highway traffic accidents.


In the last 14 years, at least 18 fatal accidents have occurred on the 10-mile stretch of Sierra Highway dotted with similar roadside memorials.


The Agua Dulce resident says the road needs to catch up to the lifestyle changes.


Los Angeles County officials are already considering some upgrades to the road, said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.


“As part of the county’s ongoing effort to improve safety on county roads, Public Works staff is currently reviewing Sierra Highway to identify areas of incident concentrations and serious and severe incidents,” he said Monday.


Since 1997, this 10-mile stretch of Sierra Highway has seen 210 accidents.
On June 2, one of them almost claimed the life of Bob Skerstonas’ wife.

Personal cause
“At 7:30 in the morning on this stretch right down from here less than half a mile,” he says, pointing, “she went off onto the soft shoulder, overcorrected, lost control, and the vehicle flipped, and she ended up on the ditch — the vehicle was squished. It was a 2000 Jimmy (SUV), and the roof touched the steering wheel.


“She walked away with two stitches,” He said, shaking his head.


A couple of days after the accident, Skerstonas stopped in at a small engine shop on Sierra Highway where the store owner told him similar stories of other motorists — only most of those motorists were not as fortunate as Skerstonas’ wife.


“He told me about a highway patrol officer whose wife had recently passed away from an auto accident, and we got to talking about Sierra Highway.


“He said ‘Bob, I drove up this highway from my shop with the tractor to the vineyards.’ And he says, ‘You can’t believe the number of crosses that are on the road in this stretch.’


“That gave me the impetus to go over to the highway department,” Skerstonas said. A CHP officer gave him a printout of statistics for Sierra Highway accidents.

Staggering stats
Between Vasquez Canyon Road and Caprock Road, 89 percent of the fatal crashes on Sierra Highway have happened during morning and afternoon rush hours, according the CHP statistics tallied since 1997.


“The stats are staggering,” Skerstonas said. “When I saw 80 accidents at Davenport Road alone — I didn’t even know this, and we come down and use Davenport every day.”


That’s when Skerstonas typed up a petition and clipped it to copies of the “staggering” statistics.


“I’m flat-out not an engineer. I’m just trying to be a concerned citizen who would like something to be done,” said Skerstonas, who works as president and CEO of Technology Enterprises Inc. in Valencia.


He wants to see raised pavement markers on the side of the road that would alert drivers who drift off the roadway. And he thinks traffic signals on the stretch of road should also be considered.

Earlier petition
It’s possible for highway changes to materialize within a year, Bell said, speaking in general terms.


“We take these suggestions quite often,” he said Monday. “We submit them to Department of Public Works; they do a traffic study and will determine if the changes will improve public safety or detract from it.”


Antonovich helped Skerstonas 20 years ago when he drafted a petition to correct one particular intersection at Sierra Highway and Davenport Road.


Antonovich responded, he said, to his earlier petition and within two months the intersection was modified.


More than 100 people signed that petition, a copy of which was left on the counter of the old Agua Dulce general store, he said.


That experience convinced him to draft another petition for Sierra Highway safety changes. It can be signed at Agua Dulce Hardware, 33314 Agua Dulce Canyon Road.


“This one is going not as well,” Skerstonas said. “I think there’s a lot apathy with politics right now.”


According to a worker at Agua Dulce Hardware, only eight people had signed Skerstonas’ Sierra Highway petition as of Monday.

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