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Malibu girl's death prompts safety push on Pacific Coast Highway

July 31, 2010 | 11:17 am


Pacific Coast Highway is many things to the tens of thousands of people who traverse it daily.

For the day-trippers who park on the shoulder and haul their coolers across the roadway, it's the route to some of the best beaches around. For the "Z drivers" -- commuters who take the canyon roads west over the mountains to PCH en route to Los Angeles -- it's the quickest way to work. For the cyclists who ride along the shoulder, it's a workout and a rush.

For the 13,000 people who call Malibu home, PCH is their main street and the only route through town. And since the death of 13-year-old Emily Rose Shane, a local eighth-grader who was hit by a car that ran off the road as she walked on the shoulder April 3, the locals are sick of sharing it with a world that looks on it as a highway.

Residents gathered this week for a public ceremony for the latest victim, Navy Petty Officer Oscar Avila Mendoza, 23, who died after his car was hit by a speeding wrong-way driver on July 16. The wrong-way driver, James Sorg, also died, and Mendoza's passenger was hospitalized.

Community activists said the five fatalities on PCH in the greater Malibu area so far this year show that despite stepped-up law enforcement and added barriers on the road, the highway is still not safe enough.

"As beautiful as Malibu is, we who live here know firsthand what an ongoing dangerous nightmare the Pacific Coast Highway can be," Julie Eamer, 51, and the mother of three, told Thursday's assembly.

Eamer and two other local "moms with mouths," as they call themselves -- Susan Saul, 48, and Maria-Flora Smoller, 45 -- formed a grass-roots group called A Safer PCH after Emily Shane died. The group now runs an e-mail list with more than 350 subscribers, and its meetings draw dozens of residents.

"This community came together for us when this tragedy happened," said Emily's mother, Ellen Shane.

Born and raised in Malibu, Emily was a happy-go-lucky girl who liked to skateboard and dreamed of one day opening a dance studio. She was walking from a friend's house to meet her father at the shopping center on Heathercliff Road -- a route local kids take frequently, even though there is no sidewalk on that stretch of highway -- when Sina Khankhanian, 27, of Winnetka allegedly drove off the road and hit her.

Read the full story here.

-- Abby Sewell in Malibu

Photo: Susan Saul, right, a founder of A Safer PCH, comforts Leigh Shane at an event this week. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times