Petition Drive Started After Two Fatal Crashes

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 22, 2022

A Morro Bay man is launching a petition drive to see if something can be done to make a worrisome segment of Hwy 1 safer, this after two fatal accidents inside of two months.

Gary Stoner has lived on San Luisito Creek Road off Hwy 1 for the past 15 years with his wife Terry. She and her family, the Perrys, have been there for generations.

Stoner explained that his father-in-law, the late-George Perry, lived his whole life there. “He was born and died in the same house,” Stoner says, sitting in the living room of their home. 

The mostly dirt road, runs far back into the hills from Hwy 1 and there are homesteads sprinkled about, with the majority of homes on Adobe Road, which runs parallel to the highway.

Stoner’s brother-in-law, Jerry Perry, who also grew up on the road, was tragically killed last New Year’s Eve, while turning left, from the southbound lanes, across traffic onto San Luisito Creek Road. 

His vintage pick-up caught fire after it was hit by another car coming from the opposite direction.

Perry’s truck was broadsided by a Hyundai Sonata driven by Gerardo Aldama, 38 of Santa Maria who slammed on his brakes but was unable to avoid the crash, according to CHP reports. The collision pushed Perry’s truck about 80 feet into shrubbery and it caught fire. Aldama was reportedly unhurt in the crash.

The loss was terrible for their family coming not long after George’s death, and their safety concerns doubled on Feb. 26, when another fatal accident happened at the same unregulated left turn involving three cars this time.

According to a CHP accident report, John Carroll, Jr., 71 of Turlock, Calif., was driving Hwy 1 in a 2014 Honda CRV and had stopped in the left turn lane leading onto San Luisito Creek Road. 

Paul Gendron, 50 of Visalia was coming in the opposite direction in a 2013 Kia Optima and reportedly traveling the speed limit, according to the CHP, when Carroll turned in front of him.

“The front end of the Kia slammed into the right side of the Honda,” the CHP report said. A third car, a 2012 Ford Escape driven by Vivian Young Gong, 66 of Morro Bay couldn’t avoid the collision that happened right in front of her. Gong’s vehicle “collided into the Kia after the initial collision.”

All three drivers suffered serious injuries and were hospitalized. A 42-year-old woman, a passenger in Carroll’s car, died from her injuries.

The shock of losing a loved one, combined with a second fatal crash so soon afterward, has set Stoner on a crusade of sorts to get something done about what are actually three cross-traffic left turns on Hwy 1 between Cuesta College and Morro Bay.

The other two turns are at San Bernardo Creek Road and into the San Luis Obispo Sportsmen’s Shooting Ranges.

And with the City of Morro Bay currently closing the South Bay Boulevard exits while its sewer project trenches through the area, that San Bernardo Creek Road turn is seeing a lot of traffic right now.

Stoner admits he’s got a dog in this hunt. He’s an e-bike rider, who also is vision impaired, and regularly volunteers at the SLO Botanical Garden in El Chorro Regional Park, and at the Grizzly Academy at Camp San Luis.

But he fears crossing the highway on a bike, so he says that he will ride all the way to South Bay Boulevard, take the exits and re-enter the highway going back the way he came. He goes far out of his way, just to safely get across the highway. 

“I go 4 miles to get across the highway at South Bay Boulevard,” he says, “and then back track.” 

Turning onto Highway 1, “is more dangerous than turning off,” he says, “and two people have died turning off the highway.”

So the twin tragedies have sparked a fire in Stoner, and he’s started a petition drive, beginning with all the neighbors on his side of Hwy 1 and on the other side, in the area of Dana and Canet Roads. 

Also, should Hydrostor, a Canadian energy company, successfully build a proposed energy storage facility on farmland on Dana Road, traffic at the intersection will greatly increase, especially during construction (still years away).

So he’s contacted various government agencies — Caltrans, the Highway Patrol, and San Luis Obispo Council of Governments — to see about getting a traffic light installed, but has been unsuccessful.

But he’s just getting started, as the fatal accidents make him feel like, “Somebody is telling us something.”

Estero Bay News sent inquiries on this issue to SLOCOG and Caltrans, and SLOCOG responded before deadline.

John DiNunzio of SLOCOG, the countywide agency that distributes federal and state funds for highways, bike paths, and other transportation projects, said, “A signal would likely not be warranted given this is an expressway and speeds out there are 65 mph-plus.”

He said at this time, SLOCOG is concentrating on other troublesome areas on Hwy 1. “SLOCOG’s view of the safety hotspots along the SR1 [State Route 1] corridor between City of SLO and City of Morro Bay are: the intersections at SR1 and Highland Drive; SR1 and Kansas Avenue and SR1 and Hollister Road [at El Chorro park]. These are the most problematic in terms of safety hotspots and trends over time.”

He notes however, that his understanding is that Caltrans has taken notice of the safety risks at San Luisito Creek Road, and “opened an investigation.”

There’s also an upcoming chance to bring up the issue. DiNunzio said, “We are convening a Regional Transportation Safety Forum in early Oct 2022 to improve the culture of Traffic Safety in SLO County, and provide a resources fair and Road Safety workshops for locally elected officials [City Council members, City and County Planning Commissioners and Community Advisory Council members from each district].”

Stoner’s petition drive, if he can get some help with it, might be a good piece of testimony to offer at such a safety summit. He feels if he can gather 500 signatures — and half of which live on these roads — “That’s gotta get somebody’s attention.”

Stoner is asking for help from anybody interested in this kind of public activism, as his vision impairment makes it difficult. And he’s not much good on a computer. Answering the phone is easier for him than texts or email, call 805-235-4184, if interested in this effort.

His petition, which his sister helped write, suggests several actions that could be taken to make the area safer:

• Reducing the speed limit;

• Signs that warn “Reduced Speed Ahead;”

• Flashing yellow lights in each direction to alert drivers to be cautious; and,

• A traffic study to determine the best course of action.

SLOCOG has been working on another possible solution, at least for bike riders, the so-called, “Chorro Valley Trial,” a separated Class-1 bike lane running the length of Chorro Valley, connecting Morro Bay, Cuesta College and Cal Poly (see: https://slocog.org/programs/regional-planning/chorro-valley-trail).

According to SLOCOG’s website, the CVT has undergone a feasibility study and drafted an implementation plan too, completed in 2014. The CVT has undergone “a long range planning study that will be used to identify biological, cultural and other impediments in the area. It contains a preliminary alignment (where the trail might go), initial design of the trail, and segments that have potential to be built in the near future.”

Initial maps show the CVT on the south side of Hwy 1, opposite where Stoner lives, so even if it goes in, he may still have to go far out of his way to get to it. “My fear is that somebody else will die while they’re studying this. We’ll see once we get the petition done.”

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