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Vehicle 'dragnets' planned for Santa Monica Farmers' Market

Nearly eight years after an 86-year-old driver sped through the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, killing 10 and injuring dozens, the city is poised to install new signs, highway-style barricades and “dragnets” capable of stopping errant vehicles.

The system, three years in the planning, is slated to be in place by the end of May at entrances to the weekly downtown markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The key new safety feature will be nets, resembling those on tennis courts, with heavy-duty cables running across the top and bottom. Patterned after the arresting gear used to snare jets landing on aircraft carriers, the dragnets are designed to catch and stop vehicles — even those traveling at high speeds — without serious injury to the driver.

“We created what we felt would be the most effective and non-lethal way to stop a car from entering the market,” said Laura Avery, farmers market supervisor.

George Russell Weller was 86 on July 16, 2003, when he crashed his Buick LeSabre through a wooden-and-plastic barricade and plowed through pedestrians at the popular open-air market. Investigators determined that Weller mistook his gas pedal for the brake and accelerated for about 20 seconds down 2-1/2 blocks of Arizona Avenue between 4th Street and Ocean Avenue. He was convicted in 2007 of 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and was sentenced to five years’ probation.

A year after the calamity, federal transportation safety officials found that the city’s 18-year-old plan for keeping traffic off that portion of Arizona was inadequate, with warning signs that were too small and posted too close to the market. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the absence of a rigid protective barrier system, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded.

Ultimately, the city of Santa Monica and other defendants agreed to pay $21 million to settle dozens of civil lawsuits arising from the crash.

Soon after the tragedy, Santa Monica stationed police officers and vehicles at the entrances. The city decided against installing bollards like those on the Third Street Promenade, saying they could harm motorists and prevent access by emergency vehicles.

The Dragnet Vehicle Arresting Barrier selected by Santa Monica has been used for years in New York and Michigan to seal off highway construction zones. In Wyoming, Hawaii and Massachusetts, the system is used to stop runaway trucks. “We’ve caught everything from motorcycles to school buses and tractor-trailers in the nets,” said Michael Kempen with Impact Absorption, the New York company that sells the technology for civilian use.

Although the city had hoped to launch the new $219,000 safety system Saturday, officials decided that workers needed more training in how to put up and take down the two nets that will run across each entrance. Avery said the city was also in the process of designing and building carts to help ferry the equipment to market entrances.

“It’s been three years in the design, manufacturing and implementation,” said Kate Vernez, assistant to the Santa Monica city manager. “This could be a model, and we need to get it right.”

-- Martha Groves

Photo: Vehicle "dragnets" may become a permanent feature of the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. Credit: City of Santa Monica

Comments () | Archives (8)

What an incredible waste of tax dollars in response to a freak accident.

How far away will the "nets" be placed from the areas where people gather and walk?

If you've seen film or video of how those nets operate, you know that to prevent injury to a driver, the net has to allow a great deal of motion during the time the car is brought to a stop, to reduce deceleration forces. They're also expensive and cumbersome to deploy and remove.

Large removable metal poles filled with concrete and placed into corresponding deep concrete and steel sockets in the street would also do the job and require substantially less protective area, money, and time.

Anyone speeding into them in a car might be injured - but better that driver than the hordes of people in the market.


At last. Long overdue. It amazes me that people have gone to that market for years blithely ignoring the obvious danger. The 1st time I went there , ten years ago, it looked too dangerous to me and I never went back. People are such sheep. "Everybody is doing it, so it must be OK". Not.

It always amazes me that people are so reactive to rare events rather than reasonably proactive to common events. For example, if a meteorite were to come crashing through my roof and land in the cooking soup and my family was poisoned by eating that soup contaminated by meteorite -- then should I cover the pot with a steel plate next time? It sounds silly, but so is protecting the farmer's market from out-of-control old people.

Given the magnitude of this tragedy the city's response has been pitiful! Too, they've never seriously addressed the potential for a similar disaster on the pier. Half the road at the foot of the incline is protected, the other lane is guarded, on occasion by a stationary police car, but is often left unguarded, sometimes they have one of those large orange polyethylene barriers in place, which, since it isn't filled with water, wouldn't stop a bicycle. Perhaps they need to hire yet more consultants!

So whatever became of George Weller? I remember they didn't want to give him any prison time or even make him face his accusers in court because his health was supposedly poor...

Eric Garcetti has personally willfully and maliciously ignored the safety of LA city residents and has willfully allowed the Hollywood farmers market to operate against engineers advice, with lacking insurance, in violation of state and federal traffic laws and all at the expense of the Taxpayers handing out tens of thousands of dollars in City Equipment and safety devices sometimes leaving field crews without.
Hollywood farmers market, the City of Los Angeles is on notice regarding the safety violations so lawsuits will be HUGE.
Eric Garcetti can be held personally liable as well!
It is time Farmers Market either pays full cost and uses proper safety devices or relocates.
Risking the safety and financial security of all city residents is not fiscally responsible.
Can the D.A. look into this matter and file some damn charges too, people can be killed and the city engineers, traffic officers, and public works investigators are instructed they will be fired if they attempt enforcement action.

All that produce is purchased at the grand central market in Downtown LA
Better stuff at Ralphs ect ect..........................don't need 'em


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