Runaway Truck Fatality Puts Kanan Safety in the Spotlight
• Outcry Follows Each Tragedy Until Public Attention Gets Diverted and Nothing Is Done
BY ANNE SOBLE
Runaway vehicles on the steep southbound downgrade of Kanan Dume Road have rarely occurred as frequently as once a year, but when they do, they are such traumatic incidents that the community becomes concerned, at least in the short term, about the safety of the cross-mountain route.
The driver of a tractor-trailer loaded with asphalt died when he lost control of his vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed on the downgrade at the 5600 section of Kanan at 11:48 a.m. last Wednesday. Kanan was closed to through traffic until Thursday afternoon.
The runaway truck struck two parked vehicles and a utility pole, downing attached power lines, before coming to rest blocking the southbound lanes of Kanan, just north of Pacific Coast Highway, within the city limits. The lengthy road closure was required to allow Southern California Edison to repair the downed lines.
The vehicle caught fire, trapping the driver inside. Initially, the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station incident report indicated that the first responders could not determine if the driver was in the truck cab due to the intense flames obstructing the windows, "so, as a precaution, a search and rescue team was deployed in the area to search for possible injured victims," or a driver who might have fled the scene.
After the vehicle fire was extinguished, the driver, the sole occupant of the vehicle, was located in the back of the truck cab. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The truck driver was not identified by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office as Vardan Harutyunyan, a 35-year-old Van Nuys resident, until Thursday, although relatives and colleagues at the accident scene had shared information about him.
Harutyunyan was driving a big rig hauling a full load of asphalt that, according to Lost Hills Sheriff's Station Sgt. Philip Brooks, weighed 17.5 tons; and was well over the weight limit of four tons and the maximum of two axles allowed on the roadway.
Brooks, the Lost Hills chief traffic investigator, said, "The driver was illegally on Kanan Road delivering to a job in Ramirez Canyon." Brooks indicated, "The legal drive route from Sun Valley [where the delivery originated] would have been via Malibu Canyon and north on PCH."
Brooks said, "It appears that the driver lost control of his vehicle after his brakes failed."
He explained that the sheriff's department is "not going to conduct any further examination of the vehicle [which was demolished] since there were no other victims."
"There is no point, since we will not be seeking a criminal filing, " he added.
The local outcry over Kanan Road safety has traditionally been loudest when a local resident is killed in a runaway truck accident, which last occurred in October 2007.
CAPTION: REMAINS—The body of Vardan Harutyunyan, the truck driver who died when his rig careened out of control on southbound Kanan Dume Road last Wednesday, has been placed in the county coroner's van, and a tow truck prepares to transport the demolished vehicle. MSN/George Hauptman