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Transportation: County Public Works Department studies Lake Hughes Road after two recent crashes

Posted: October 10, 2011 2:36 a.m.
Updated: October 10, 2011 2:36 a.m.

County engineers are now looking at improving a remote stretch of Lake Hughes Road that recently claimed the life of one man and almost killed another.

While family members of the two motorists work toward installing guardrails on the winding country road east of Castaic, engineers with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works will start by first assessing the road, a department spokesman said.

Kerjon Lee prefaced news of the department’s recent plans by expressing sympathy for Melvin Gelfand, who died in a crash off Lake Hughes Road in mid-September, and wishing a “speedy recovery” for David La Vau, who survived a similar plunge down the same ravine.

“L.A. County Public Works is conducting an engineering study of Lake Hughes Road,” Lee said Friday.

“The study includes a review of field conditions and other relevant data based on the California Department of
Transportation Traffic Manual and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.”

Engineers are expected to review the investigations done by the California Highway Patrol into the two accidents.  

“Since the roadway is within the jurisdiction of the National Forest Service, Public Works will share its findings and recommendations with the National Forest Service,” Lee said. “Public Works does not have the authority to make changes to roadways in areas of National Forest Service jurisdiction without its approval.”

Deep ravine
On Sept. 29, searchers combing Lake Hughes Road found crash survivor David La Vau at the bottom of a 200-foot ravine next to his badly damaged car. They also found Gelfand’s crumpled Toyota Camry sedan.

The body pulled from Gelfand’s car was later identified as the 88-year-old resident of West Los Angeles.

When asked this week about the safety of Lake Hughes Road, a CHP spokesman pointed to the number of accidents on similar rural roads that fall inside their jurisdiction.

“We have 640 square miles to patrol,” said CHP officer John Lutz of the Newhall Station.

CHP statistics compiled between September 2010 and last month reveal dozens of accidents in outlying areas.

They include:
- 14 accidents on Lake Hughes Road, including one fatality;
- 34 on Sierra Highway;
- 50 on Bouquet Canyon Road, including one fatality;
- and 34 on San Francisquito Canyon Road.

Common pledge
A week ago, just after his father had emerged from surgery to repair a badly dislocated shoulder, Sean La Vau told The Signal he received an email from the Gelfand family expressing an interest in seeing a guardrail built on the bend in Lake Hughes Road at the cliff where both cars went over.

“We’re getting together and we are jointly going to try and improve that road, especially that spot, in memorial for that family,” Sean La Vau said. “We’re going to try and improve that road, and see if we could get a ramp or a guardrail on that spot,” La Vau said.

This past week, Gelfand’s son-in-law, Will Matlack, expressed the same sentiments.

“When this all settles down,” he said referring to the media attention surrounding the stories of both families. “We’re going to look at that. We’re going to do whatever we can to make the road safer.”


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