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Mt. Whitney Motel damaged in truck collision

San Francisco...
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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Mt. Whitney Motel damaged in truck collision
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It looks like we can take this off my recommended list, at least while they make repairs. A big rig full of hay went out of control on 395 entering Lone Pine about 4:30 a.m. on Sunday and checked into the motel, which is one of my go-to places in town. It sounds like no one was seriously hurt, but it also appears that the motel, at least that part of it, will be out of commission for awhile.

In the photo with the trailer into the building, you are looking SW at the north wing of the older of two buildings. The building is like a squared-off C shape with the opening on 395 and the fire section would be the top of the C, with parking and a small pool in the middle. (A newer annex is out of view, west of this building). The main street with the crosswalk is 395, and the cross street is Statham Way; north across Statham from the motel, and out of view, is a Shell station with Carl’s Jr.

In the Sierra Wave picture looking north, showing the building on fire, at the extreme right is the side of the El Dorado Bank. You can just see the mural on the wall of a historic Mt. Whitney ceremony that involved Father Crowley, who had a parish in Lone Pine. This is the other side of Statham Way, but the name changes to Locust (that's the street where his church was, after it moved from Main Street because the Dow Hotel wanted to expand and bought the church's land).

https://www.sierrawave.net/big-rig-crashes-into-mt-whitney-motel-in-lone-pine-motel-in-flames/

https://www.kolotv.com/2020/08/01/crash-closes-us-395-in-inyo-county-detour-in-place/

https://www.recordcourier.com/news/hay-truck-fire-closes-highway-395-through-lone-pine/

A few observations:

There are no onlookers, unusual even in a small town. Everyone runs out to see a fire. There aren’t even hotel guests milling around. It may be that COVID saved lives by reducing tourism, because a normal Saturday night in the summer sees tons of visitors staying in Lone Pine. I’ve stayed at this place often, sometimes on days off from working in Death Valley, a few times in the wing that was hit, with my car parked about where the ladder is standing. At 4:30 a.m. in a typical summer travel season, this could have been a multi-casualty event.

The driver was 73 years old. Repeating, this happened at 4:30 a.m. Not saying that's relevant to the accident, but how many of us have felt drowsy after driving maybe all night, even when we were 30? Or could he have had a medical problem?

The detailed report on KOLO TV tells me it was a slow news day in the Sierra. This is a Reno station which would normally have little cause to be interested in Lone Pine, other than the closure of 395 which is a main street from Reno to everywhere south.

4 replies to this topic
San Francisco...
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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1. Re: Mt. Whitney Motel damaged in truck collision
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The Lone Pine VFD has a bit of video that shows more, in daylight.

https://www.facebook.com/Lone-Pine-Volunteer-Fire-Department-246102082743727/

A few onlookers are finally out and about, but nothing like what I’d expect on a summer weekend in Lone Pine. The camera is panning north to south. The white utility trucks are from Southern California Edison or the Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power, which are both part of the Eastern Sierra electrical infrastructure and supply chain. The truck knocked out several power poles and lines (one is visible on the corner). The background greenery is the park at the north end of town.

According to the CHP report, the Freightliner tractor was pulling double trailers filled with hay bales. When the tractor hit the building (and seemingly, from the picture, tipped over), the load spilled out, and the tractor, the hay, and then the building caught fire. No one was staying in that room. The live electrical lines may have been a factor in the fire, but the report doesn’t specify. The truck driver was rescued from his cab inside the burning building by an Inyo County deputy and two citizens who just *happened* to be in the right place at the right time (you may know how quiet Lone Pine is at 4:00 a.m.) He had serious injuries and was taken to the hospital a couple blocks away.

You can see how close the truck came to clobbering the gas station and shearing off the dispensers. And then its trajectory might have been different, maybe into the main part of the hotel rather than the wing, and who knows how many people were asleep in the main section? The office is in the wing with the entrance in the inner courtyard, but the owners live next to the motel and have a night bell, and there isn’t typically someone in the office 24/7.

Fremont, California
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2. Re: Mt. Whitney Motel damaged in truck collision
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That is too bad Thanks for your post.

That is a historic motel and wish all well as they rebuild.

La Mirada...
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3. Re: Mt. Whitney Motel damaged in truck collision
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I belong to a couple of Eastern Sierra/395 groups on Facebook. Lots of discussion regarding this and the general traffic on 395. Speeding through these small towns has become a huge issue. I don’t know that speed was a factor in this accident. I do think speed bumps would help tremendously, but in the meantime ~ if you are traveling the 395 along the Eastern Sierra, please pay attention to the speed limit signs. Common sense will tell you 65 through town is not acceptable or safe.

San Francisco...
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4. Re: Mt. Whitney Motel damaged in truck collision
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The matter of traffic and speeding on 395 through towns was mentioned in this thread about going to Tahoe from the south.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g155987-i338-k13357941-South_Lake_Tahoe_using_the_395_Fwy-Lake_Tahoe_California_California.html

Yes, it’s a problem, and because most towns do not have electric traffic signals, their only protection is the speed limit signs as you approach and then arterial stops in town. Lone Pine has one signal, Independence and Big Pine don’t, Bishop has (IIRC) 2-3 on 395 and a couple on other major streets; then you go all the way to the outskirts of Carson City before there is another signal on 395.

If the driver in the motel crash dozed off, no traffic light or speed limit sign would have helped. Speed bumps, maybe; a good spot might be where the earthquake memorial is. Coming from the north, once in town, you are right in the congested “downtown” as soon as you pass the park, and some folks are still in freeway mentality at that point.

It appears the first thing the hay truck hit was power lines and one or more pole just outside the Shell station where Carl’s Jr. is. It may have been veering off the side before that, but the Lone Pine FD video doesn’t seem to show damage to the fence or trees at the park. Thank heaven he didn’t run right into the gas station and then take the direct line from there into the main part of the motel, which would be more likely to be occupied (I’ve stayed in the main section and both the top and bottom of the C-shaped complex, and the top typically seems to be filled last - maybe because parking is cramped at that end (I park outside, where the ladder in the photo is leaning against the wall).

Coming from the south, the transition from highway to town street is more gradual, so you have a chance to adjust, realize you’re in town, and slow down. You pass the 136 turnoff for Death Valley, then the golf course, the Comfort Inn, airport, Best Western, and other businesses that are more spaced out than in the downtown, so you know you’re in a populated area but are not conflicting with lots of traffic yet. I don’t know how much speed bumps would be needed on the south end.

Here is an article about an earlier accident, a month ago, that also calls out the speed problem.

https://www.sierrawave.net/two-vehicle-collision-in-the-lone-pine-resulted-in-major-injuries/

A Toyota Tacoma leaving the movie museum was T-boned by a southbound Silverado that investigators said had been speeding through town. The Silverado driver was a Lone Pine resident (should have known better). The impact capsized the Tacoma, and all four occupants and their dog plus the Silverado driver were injured, but no one died. From the photos, I’d say the folks on the left side of the Toyota must have been living right and had angels looking over them; and they were all probably blessed to be in a pickup and not a sedan. Both vehicles ended up across 395 from the museum and facing north, so the momentum was enough to carry them across and spin them around. It was in mid-afternoon, so no one should have been dozing or DUI. The Tacoma group was from the Bay Area, and who knows why the driver pulled out in front of traffic, but assuming he didn’t know the area, maybe he misjudged speed or scale, or maybe he thought there was a stop sign. Anyway, another case where speed could have ended up in a big tragedy.

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