By Douglas W. Motley
The first winter storm of the year wreaked havoc on the mountaintop communities on Dec. 28, with snow and ice-packed roadways clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic, collisions involving as many as 13 vehicles at a time, scattered power outages and a lost hiker.
With the winter storm approaching on Sunday, Dec. 27, sheriff’s aviation personnel assisted Twin Peaks deputies with a search and rescue operation in the Green Valley Lake area for a lost Arrowbear man. (See details in the Dec. 31 issue of this newspaper.)
With the storm raging on Monday, Dec 28 and Tuesday, Dec 29 and dumping as much as two feet of snow on mountain roads, thousands of Southland residents flocked to the mountains to celebrate the New Year’s holiday weekend.
Meanwhile, hundreds of motorists, both with and without tire chains, spun out of control, slamming into hillsides, guardrails and one another on mountain highways. This made it difficult for the drivers of box trucks and big rigs to make timely deliveries of supplies needed by retailers. Oher motorists were simply stalled and blocking the road, while still others stopped in the middle of the road to install chains.
When combined, all of these traffic impediments resulted in driving times of up to four or five hours for motorists anxious to reach their destinations, whether they be ski resorts or snow-play areas, or mountain residents just wanting to return home from their Christmastime excursions.
According to California Highway Patrol (CHP) Public Affairs Officer Jacob Griede, heavy traffic and illegally parked vehicles alongside mountain highways and on private property during the winter holiday period resulted in the issuing of just under 100 citations.
“Nearly 100 motorists were cited for parking violations,” Griede said, noting that fines, which had previously been set at $15, had recently been increased to a range of $80 to $150. In addition to parking violations, said Griede, three arrests were made for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the CHP’s twin-holiday weekend maximum enforcement period.
Sheriff’s Capt. Don Lupear told The Alpine Mountaineer on Monday that most of the calls for service were for stranded vehicles stuck in snow. The road to Snow Valley, Lupear said, was plowed narrower than in past years, making it harder for motorists to park without blocking the road, so snow play was not as bad as in the past.
“For the amount of people who came and went, our calls were less than usual,” the captain said.
It wasn’t just mountain area highways that were impacted by the deluge of snow and ice. Local two-lane routes had their share of traffic problems as well. Steep and winding roadways such as Daley Canyon Road and Highways 138, 173 and 189 had their fair share of collisions and stuck vehicles.
According to Devina Vincent, she had just returned to the mountain from down the hill on Tuesday, Dec. 29 and found that the wait time to get through chain control near Panorama Point was about 50 minutes. When she drove downward bound on Highway 138, she encountered several cars stuck behind a car headed upbound between Brookside and Balsam. “When I got turned around to head home, there were even more vehicles stuck upbound and several facing the wrong way in the down bound lane.”
Brianna Rowlen reported on Tuesday, Dec. 29 that a Tecate beer truck was stuck in front of The Treasure Box on Lake Drive in Crestline and that a mini-van and another vehicle with no chains were stuck in snow on Highway 18 near Snow Valley. After seeing 40 separate listings on the CHP’s online incident reports (cad.chp.ca.gov), Rowlen said, “I’m noticing a theme, all the lanes are blocked… stay the **** home.”