SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - A fatal accident on a busy Sonoma County route was apparently caused by a sleepy driver. The head-on accident happened Wednesday afternoon on River Road, west of Santa Rosa.
A woman was killed in the three-car crash, as two vehicles ahead of her spun out of control.
"Unfortunately for her, just the way the impact occurred, she sustained fatal injuries," CHP Officer Tyler Crone told KTVU, "and I don't believe there's anything she could have done."
The well-traveled road stretches fifteen miles from Santa Rosa to the Russian River communities to the west. River Road has one lane in each direction, with no barrier, so accidents are common and often deadly. Rolling along vineyards, resorts, ranches, and residential areas, the drive is as dangerous as it is beautiful.
"It's no joke, a lot of people don't obey the law on this road for some reason," said Douglas Newland of Guerneville, who finds the 55 mph speed limit is routinely ignored. "Speeders are always on your butt, and they want to get around you if you go slow, I've seen lots of accidents."
The CHP says speeds involved in Wednesday's crash are still under investigation, but soon afterward, an electronic speed sensor trailer was stationed at the scene to slow motorists down. The situation always worsens with the arrival of summer tourists.
"They don't know where they're going, and then locals on their way to work get frustrated and start tailgating," said Deanna Dena of Monte Rio," so you have to drive defensively, always watching ahead."
Along River Road, Sonoma County has placed bold, black and white signs in sequential order.
They read: "Slow Down", "Don't Die", and "Don't Kill."
They are also planted on Occidental Road and Lakeville Highway, two other corridors with heavy traffic, high speeds, and numerous head-on accidents.
The messages are intentionally blunt.
"We have three approaches: education, enforcement and engineering," said Daniel Virkstis, spokesman for the Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works Department. "The signs are controversial, and we think that drives awareness and we're trying to save lives, that's the important thing."
In Wednesday's accident, the unidentified victim was in a Honda CRV, following behind a Ford Ranger pickup.A driver in a Hyundai Sante Fe heading the opposite direction crossed over into oncoming traffic and sideswiped the pickup, which triggered the pile-up. Everyone else involved was shaken, but survived.
"It looks like the Hyundai driver dozed off behind the wheel and crossed over," said Officer Crone, who noted the 71 year old man was fatigued, driving from the Sonoma coast with his wife.
Entering the July 4 holiday period, CHP reminds everyone, tired driving is as risky as drunk driving.
"A lot of people think they can push through tiredness, roll down the windows," warned Crone, "but the best bet is to pull over to a safe location and take a nap, don't drive drowsy."