2 girls' deaths have community concerned over road improvement in Jenner

The deaths of two sisters this week on the Sonoma Coast has people talking with new determination about road improvements.

The tragic accident happened Tuesday, as a Jenner woman drove her two daughters to school in Monte Rio.
On the first curve outside town, her pickup truck fishtailed on Highway 1.

Sarah Markus may have overcorrected on the slippery road, and the truck plunged over the embankment into the mouth of the Russian River below.

"It was extremely wet, almost a rainy fog all night," family friend Cal Ares told KTVU, at the spot where it happened, now site of a growing memorial to the children.

The truck sank quickly in 20 feet of water, and the girls drowned in their car seats as their mom desperately tried to save them.

"She was able to grab one of the girl's arms, but the water was coming in so fast, and sucked her away from her," described Ares.

As President of the Jenner Community Club, Ares says virtually everyone knows the family and 4 year old Hailey, and her sister Kaitlyn, who was 6.

"Those litle girls were so loving and so beautiful," said Ares sadly, " and these were the little ones of Jenner.

We only have 100 people or so here, so these were our only little ones that age."

Now as people make the sad pilgrimage to lay flowers and toys on the highway's shoulder, they are also talking about keeping a tragedy like this from happening again.

"Caltrans should come talk to us about what we need," longtime Jenner resident David Kenly told KTVU.

"We're here on the ground, we live it, we see it every day."

There have been other fatal accidents at or near the same curve.

In 2010, a woman failed to see the bend in the highway and plunged over the side and into the estuary.

In 2014, a young man driving the same section, but the opposite direction, spun out of control and hit a guard rail. His car flipped, and he died of a broken neck.

"Some of the guard rails have been effective, but some have contributed," said Kenly. Kenly, Ares, and a third community leader, Steve Dee make up a committee formed to communicate with state and local politicians about a comprehensive approach to safety improvements.

They believe it's not as simple as erecting a guardrail on the curve.

They want a comprehensive look at the slope, the pavement, speed, signage, lighting, and the possibility of rumble strips.

Traditionally, there's reluctance to wall off the scenic beauty of the Sonoma Coast, but with the drop so deadly, resistance to a barrier seems to have evaporated.

"This is one of those unique situations," explained Dee, "where no one is objecting to how much it might cost them or what we have to do politically to get this thing resolved."
At Jenner businesses, jars are on the counters, collecting donations for the Markus famly, which is in seclusion.

"Lovely little girls, mom would bring them here for ice creams, and they will be missed," said Robert McShea, manning the register at the Jenner Market.
McShea said his customers can hardly speak of the crash without tears.

"A lot of us try to hold it back until we're in private or with somebody we know," he added.

"It's all about the girls, everybody is focused on the girls."

A GoFundMe account has also been set-up to assist the Markus family with expenses.