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Other Voices: Crash victim should not be further penalized

The California Highway Patrol has overreacted to the tragic death of a woman in the accident that occurred on an icy patch of Highway 49.

They are lumping an isolated event in with the rash of accidents that happened last year on the highway between Auburn and Nevada City. Under pressure from local citizen groups and, in all likelihood, the headquarters in Sacramento, the local troopers are trying to regain control of the situation.

In deciding to recommend a manslaughter charge, the investigator says nobody should have been driving over 35 miles per hour that Sunday morning. How many tickets were issued that morning to people who were driving that fast? Virtually every car I saw that morning was driving between 45 and 55, which was the speed CHP said Burkett was traveling.



I was on my way to work that morning, driving at 45 mph and in 4-wheel drive when I drove past an accident on Highway 49. It was in the same location as the Burkett accident that would claim his friend.

At 6:30 in the morning a vehicle hit the same patch of ice, swerved across into the other lane, overcorrected, came back across the centerline and flipped over in the ditch between La Barr Meadows Road and the highway. Law enforcement vehicles, including the CHP, were on the scene. This tells me they knew of the dangers in that specific location.




Did they take appropriate action and order additional sand for that section of road, as they do in other areas, prior to Mr. Burkett arriving there?

This previous accident did not show up in the papers because nobody died. It was merely fate that no one was coming from the other direction. I know of the details because I know someone who works with the victim of that crash.

The man on his way to church with his family was the victim of the first icy road condition of the winter and may have not even known the road was icy until it was too late. It is wrong to include this accident in with those caused by inexperienced juveniles who were involved in the vast majority of the previous fatal accidents.

I believe the CHP is getting tough on Mr. Burkett now because they were not tough on Highway 49 all year. I, like thousands of others, drive up and down 49 many times. It is rare when I see a CHP car. What I do see is tailgating, speeding, unsafe lane changes and people in a hurry to die.

Let me tell you where I do see CHP cars almost daily. At the top of Boulder Street in Nevada City and on Red Dog and Quaker Hill roads five miles out of town. They are ticketing speeders doing 35 in a 25 and 45 in a 35.

To my knowledge no one has died in an accident on Boulder Street or Red Dog Road. Meanwhile, there is talk of a heliport at the Dew Drop Inn as a way to speed response time to the carnage on 49. I have not gotten a ticket on the side roads because I know patrols will be there on a regular basis.

Drivers on 49 knew they wouldn’t get caught there because the CHP hadn’t been there until the last month. Maybe a new law enforcement agency called the California Back Road Patrol can be formed to allow the Highway Patrol to be where they are most needed. Either that or allocate 95 percent of patrol time to highways 49, 174, 20, and 5 percent for old mining trails.

The answer to the problem on 49 is visibility. If the CHP shows up, traffic will slow down.

Even if you don’t have enough officers to patrol during school and work commuting hours, at least send a volunteer out to park in several places along the highway to keep the traffic honest. Try it for a year and see if things don’t improve.

I beg you not to force a girl, who was also a victim of that accident, to see her dad for the first time through prison bars after she leaves the hospital because the weather was bad that day and proper attention had not been given to the road that day.

Sean O’Brien was born and raised in the Grass Valley-Nevada City area. His father was a CHP officer in this area in the late ’50s early ’60s.


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