Dangerous Road Continues to Cause Accidents

Photo: Grizzly Peak Boulevard has been the site of numerous car accidents. Officials and drivers hope to establish safety precautions on the road, such as railings or a lower speed limit.
Anne Marie Schuler/Staff
Grizzly Peak Boulevard has been the site of numerous car accidents. Officials and drivers hope to establish safety precautions on the road, such as railings or a lower speed limit.

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Helen Rischbieth was driving her Lexus on Grizzly Peak Boulevard back to her San Francisco home in April 2003 when she nearly lost her life.

A light rain had picked up after a dry spell, Rischbieth said, and as she drove her car around a downward curve on Grizzly Peak, she lightly tapped the brakes.

But Rischbieth soon found herself spinning a full 270 degrees before coming to a halt at the top of a steep embankment. A nearby resident helped Rischbieth out of her teetering vehicle and told her she was lucky that the car's undercarriage had jammed on the edge because she would have gone over if it had not.

"I have no doubt that I would be either dead or severely injured if I had gone over," Rischbieth said. "I thought to myself: Why wouldn't there be any barriers? Why wouldn't there be any safety?"

Recently, others in Rischbieth's situation haven't been so lucky. At least four accidents have occurred on Grizzly Peak-located in the hills northeast of the UC Berkeley campus-over the last three years. Two resulted in fatalities, and the other two involved non-fatal injuries.

On the afternoon of Jan. 14, driver Evangeline Sison, 65, drifted off of the peak several hundred yards down an embankment and was ejected from her vehicle. The Oakland Police Department responded to the incident and pronounced Sison dead upon arriving at the scene.

On Sept. 19, 2009 two victims were hospitalized after their vehicle went over the edge of the peak, according to UCPD.

Another vehicle went off the peak March 27, 2009, and the driver, Jerry Backman Jr., was found dead, according to CBS 5.

And on Nov. 4, 2008, a driver and passenger attempted to pull off the road to let another car pass but slid down an embankment and struck a tree stump, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. They were treated for their injuries and survived.

Calling herself a law-abiding driver, Rischbieth says the foggy, drizzly weather was all it took for her car to spin out of control.

"I don't drive there now because I don't like to," she said. "I'm too scared. I just get a feeling of a lack of safety. There should be more road barriers to prevent anyone from going off the ledge."

When Rischbieth and her husband drove past the location of the accident last Sunday, they noticed that no changes had been made to the road since her accident in 2003.

Jeff Thomason, a public information officer with the Oakland Police Department-which has jurisdiction in some areas of the road, including the location of Sison's incident-said no safety precautions have been made to the road since the fatal January accident.

Thomason added that grants have been issued for overtime work enforcement, allowing the department to send officers to monitor speed in the area.

"We would like to see people follow the speed limits, not use their cell phones," Thomason said. "If people can follow those simple tips, it will create a safer environment."

The speed limit for Grizzly Peak Boulevard is 25 mph.

Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf, whose district includes the road, said she has been attempting to arbitrate speed on the road.

"People use Grizzly Peak as a highway," Wengraf said. "It's a dangerous stretch of road. I've met with the transportation department several times to try and find a way to mediate traffic speed in that area."

Debby Richman, an Oakland resident and writer for the blog "Today in Montclair," said in an e-mail that on Grizzly Peak, "everyone goes too fast and there's no ability to course correct."

"There are plenty of accidents and near-misses," she added.

Richman said the weather is also a significant contributing factor to these accidents.

"If you have ever driven around Grizzly, then you would be able to see how the fogs can get you," she said.


Contact Hailey Parish at [email protected]

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