FATAL ACCIDENT: CDF firefighters examine the wreckage of a car that was buried Monday afternoon when a semi-truck lost all 22 crates in the second trailer on Highway 46 near Whitley Gardens. ©Maggie White/Telegram-Tribune
Highway 46 East is slowly being converted from Blood Alley. I say slowly because though the Tribune has covered the road's grisly multi-fatality accidents for decades, only in the last few years has concrete road construction inched east from Paso Robles toward Bakersfield.
Some short term improvements have been made, rumble strips, concrete medians in high accident zones and increased Highway Patrols enforcement but the road has not seen a major upgrade in decades.
A 1999 Matt Lazier story confirmed that Highway 46 East was the deadliest in the county. The previous decade had recorded over 1.4 deaths per mile of road. No other highway averaged as much as half-a-death per mile.
Caltrans officials then said there were more deadly roads in the state that needed improvement. A legitimate point, but many millions have since been spent on county road improvements in areas that have few fatalities.
The Highway 41 bypass and 101 interchange in Atascadero cost millions of dollars and won't prevent deadly head-on accidents in Blood Alley.
Admittedly I may not be the most impartial observer, having known Jeff, Ann and Siena Fairbanks. The former Telegram-Tribune editor, reporter and their daughter were killed in a fiery November 1995 accident on the highway along with two other travellers. During that decade there were 42 deaths in 40 head on collisions in the 30 miles between Paso Robles and the Kern County line.
Highway 46 is the most direct route between Highway 101 and Interstate 5 through the county. My family frequently travels the same road to visit relatives in the Central Valley and often we see drivers taking crazy risks.
You could argue that it is not the road's fault and that stupid drivers are to blame but many of the accidents have a random freakish quality. Folks die simply for being on a narrow, dangerous road at the wrong time.
I was reminded of one example while observing the massive earth moving at the Estrella River crossing west of Whitley Gardens. The new road will be straighter, flatter and the twin bridges will separate the east and westbound traffic.
From the July 4, 1995 edition of the Tribune:
Freak accident leaves man dead
Car is crushed under load of broccoli after truck trailer flips over
By Maggie White
WHITLEY GARDENS— A man was killed and the woman with him seriously injured when a semi-truck dumped half its load of broccoli on their car Monday afternoon.
The man and woman, whose names had not been released by the California Highway Patrol by press time, were near Estrella Road just past Whitley Gardens. The eastbound truck's second trailer flipped over and dropped at least sis car-sized wooden broccoli crates on their sports car.
A 4-year-old boy named Danny who was in the car escaped serious injuries. The driver of the truck was not injured.
The woman and boy were taken to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton. While the boy was apparently uninjured the woman suffered major injuries.
The accident happened at about 4:45 p.m. There was no information available on why the truck's trailer flipped over. The accident is under investigation.
A tow truck driver at the accident estimated that the broccoli crates weighed close to a ton each. They hit the car with enough force to shove it against the rail of the bridge over Estrella Creek.
The blue newer model Trans Am or Camaro was unrecognizable, covered in broccoli and with the top ripped off. Whole bunches and chunks of broccoli and wood from the crates littered both lanes of the highway.
Birds swarmed overhead trying to get at the fresh vegetables.
Cars filled with Fourth of July travelers were backed up in both directions for at least three miles. California Highway Patrol officers alternated one lane of traffic past the accident as California Department of Forestry crews worked to free the dead man.
A woman driving by in a white sedan crossed herself as she passed the mangled car.
Truckloads of other fruits and vegetables — apples and red and green tomatoes — cast shadows on the accident scene on the main connecting highway between the Central Coast and the Central Valley.
Traffic began to clear about two hours after the wreck.
A vanload of men from Avenal who witnessed the accident pulled over to the side of the road to help. Adam Salazar pulled 4-year-old Danny out of the wreckage.
"He was OK," said Salazar. "I asked him his name and how old he was to see if he was OK."
—Neil Farrell contributed to this report