By Michael J. ARVIZU
There were no injuries or fatalities in a solo tractor-trailer collision at the intersection of Fenwick Street and Sunland Boulevard in Sunland on Saturday night. The fully loaded truck was on its way from Yuma, Ariz. to Salinas, Calif. when it lost its breaks while parked at the top of the westbound Foothill (210) Freeway Sunland Boulevard off-ramp.
After careening through the intersection, the truck came to rest after crashing into a traffic light standard, slightly damaging it and a sign welcoming motorists to town. The cab of the truck burst into flame on impact, according to witnesses.
City of Los Angeles Fire Dept. firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, but the intersection remained closed for several hours, tying up traffic on westbound Foothill and Sunland boulevards and eastbound Sunland Boulevard. The intersection was reopened by Sunday morning.
Witnesses say the driver of the truck was seen on the off-ramp inspecting the brakes shortly before his truck sped off with no one at the wheel. The truck crashed at the northwest corner of the intersection, across from a busy shopping center and just feet from a Sizzler restaurant filled with Saturday night customers.
The driver of the truck would not comment, only to say that he was carrying lettuce. The produce was from Snoboy, a produce company label based in Scottsdale, Ariz. According to U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, the truck is registered to Pantoja Trucking, based in Greenfield, Calif.; the company transports fresh produce and refrigerated food.
Lake View Terrace resident Kirk Rockwell was on his way home from Sun Valley and was travelling east on Sunland Boulevard. He was about to turn left onto Fenwick Street when the out-of-control semi zoomed past him, mere inches from his truck.
“I was waiting for the light, then I saw a truck coming at a great speed,” said Rockwell, who designs parts for racecars and has seen his share of accidents. “It just kind of started coming toward me at an angle, then it hit the pole and burst into flames. The heat was
Trucker Omar Alvarez of Sunland saw the accident while dining with his girlfriend at Sizzler. He said that in situations when a driver feels his brakes have failed, the immediate course of action is to activate the truck’s emergency brake and Jake-brake, which slows and stops the engine. It was not immediately clear if the driver of the truck had taken such action.
“We saw the whole thing, but I didn’t see the driver running or who came out of the truck,” Alvarez said.
Sunland resident Rick Whiteman was also eating at Sizzler with his family and watched the accident unfold.
“It was nasty, it was loud,” Whiteman said.
Although no one was injured or killed in Saturday’s accident, a similar incident took place in La Cañada in 2009. A fully-loaded truck car carrier, driven by Marcos Costa, lost its brakes on Angeles Crest Highway. It careened through the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Angeles Crest Highway, slamming into a car and killing two. Costa was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter, gross vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving; he was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison.
“It’s very heartbreaking to see situations like these,” said witness and Shadow Hills resident Vaagn Kzlgezyan, who works in the admitting department at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. “You have regular people do their daily routines and stuff like this happens. You just got to be careful.”