By J. Harry Jones
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
PALOMAR MOUNTAIN – Although the investigation has not been finalized, a California Highway Patrol spokesman said the death of a 60-year-old Escondido woman whose motorcycle crashed into a water truck on Palomar Mountain last week was primarily her fault.
Sally Mata and other motorcyclists were heading down South Grade Road on Sept. 30 when a water truck turned left into her lane while heading toward a turn-out area. Mata's Honda crashed into the truck and she died a short time later.
Lt. Paul Golonski of the CHP said it appears Mata failed to do anything to avoid the collision.
“We're in a quandary as to why she didn't apply the brakes or take evasive action,” Golonski said.
Although the truck was in Mata's lane, the CHP will likely not recommend that charges be brought against its driver, Golonski said.
“You can't just run into someone even if they're in the way,” Golonski said.
Other motorcyclists told investigators that Mata and the group of motorcyclists she was riding with had sped past them further up the mountain and speed possibly played a role in the crash, Golonski said.
An initial report that a possible cause of the accident was that Mata had crossed the double-yellow center line into the path of the truck was incorrect, Golonski said.
That initial description upset many in the motorcycling community. It is unlikely the CHP's latest findings will quell that anger.
Mata was involved in a fatal motorcycle accident on the same road almost exactly one year before her death. In that case, a 30-year-old Marine on a sports bike lost control while rounding a curve and slid into Mata's path. The Marine was killed; Mata was injured.
Reckless driving by motorcyclists and drivers of sports cars has been a problem on the mountain for many years.
Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Department Chief George Lucia said his department responds to an average of three serious accidents each weekend. He estimates that the actual number of accidents along South Grade and East Grade roads is closer to a dozen most weekends.
Some motorcyclists who have been traveling the roads of Palomar Mountain for years are upset with the often young and inexperienced riders who don't respect the twisting, dangerous curves of the roads, thereby making it risky for everyone.
Lucia said there was only one serious accident this past weekend, resulting in a broken shoulder for a motorcyclist.
Lucia recently asked the county to use grant money to install “rumble strip-style passive traffic and speed control” measures on the mountain's roads. He's asking that grooves be cut into the pavement in the middle of the roads so that a driver nearing the center line would feel a significant vibration. He also wants grooves cut across lanes before each sharp turn, thereby giving drivers a warning to reduce speed.
Lucia said yesterday the county has not yet responded to his request. He said phone calls and e-mails from motorcyclists have been surprisingly supportive of the ideas.