By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy
Residents of three hillside Laguna Beach streets could not leave their homes with ease last Saturday while a small army of trucks maneuvered on the narrow lanes to right a 48-ton crane that had overturned and damaged a house.
While the cause of the mishap continues to be investigated by authorities and insurers, some residents think a contributing factor lies with the cumulative impact of upsized properties allowed on the dead-end streets inland from Victoria Beach.
“We need more radius,” said 30-year resident David Tegen, who on Monday pointed to removed landscaping, bent property posts and leaning street signs, collateral damage at the t-intersection of Rounsevel Terrace and Hinkle Street where a construction crane failed to negotiate a tight turn Friday about 1 p.m.
“We have our little piece of paradise and it has impacted us,” resident Linda B. Hall said of “mansionization,” which she described as an “atrocity.”
Tegan intends to argue his point, that development encroachment is a safety hazard at the intersection, at a future City Council meeting. Moreover, he wants city officials to impose a weight limit on vehicles entering the neighborhood. Three of the city’s steepest ascents — Upland, Third and Alta Vista streets — currently forbid access by heavy trucks.
But that doesn’t stop other drivers, especially if unfamiliar with the topography.
Over 10 hours on Saturday, experts in accident recovery relied on eight tow trucks to slowly pull upright the four-axel crane lying on its left side, said Laguna Beach Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse, who, as of Wednesday, had yet to finalize the cost of the salvage effort.
Owner and operator Dave Benson used the crane with a 70-foot boom to deposit a 700-pound concrete wall fountain in the rear of Tara Davis’ home. The three-level remodel has a narrow side stairway that leads to the backyard. The crane was ordered by the designer because the fountain was hard to maneuver up the existing side yard, which is of less than a yard wide, said architect Lance Polster.
Because of its long wheelbase, when the crane attempted to exit Rounsevel by turning left downhill on Hinkle Street, its rear tires lifted from the ground, LaTendresse said. To extricate the machine, the driver told firefighters he attempted to raise the boom to redistribute weight and had another truck pull from behind. When that towline broke, the crane’s boom slowly tipped downhill, stopped by a supporting roof girder of the corner house, LaTendresse said. The occupants, relatives of owner Phillip Smoker, had already left the home, he said.
LaTendresse said he initially considered a recovery plan proposed by Benson, who argued for placing other cranes downhill on sloping Hinkle Street to pull the fallen crane upright. Ultimately, LaTendresse turned to Anaheim Fullerton Towing, which specializes in accident recovery. “It was a difficult recovery,” LaTendresse said.
Benson, who has owned Benson Crane Inc. in Santa Ana since 1997, declined to discuss the incident on the advice of his insurer.
Anaheim Towing’s operation manager Oscar Chavira, who orchestrated the recovery, called on colleagues from afar to assist since his own company was short on drivers due to vacations. After learning about the predicament, some refused the job, said Chavira, who met with LaTendresse on Friday and returned again at midnight to take measurements and inspect the crane with the owner of Bill & Wag’s Inc., a tow company in Ontario.
On Saturday, Chavira marshaled 11 tow trucks of various sizes from five tow companies, including To ‘n Mo, Aliso Viejo Towing and B&D Towing.
“It looked like a ‘Transformer’ movie,” said resident Rick A. Smith.
Two served as anchors. Five others used their winches to put force on the machinery’s lowest points and on the boom, which was wrapped with chains. “We used everything but three 16-ton wreckers. We ran out of space,” said Chavira, who relied on a combination of geometry and physics to figure out how to split the crane’s weight across the various tow lines.
The extricated crane “was definitely more than necessary,” Chavira said, to deliver a table-sized fountain. He nonetheless understands the dilemma of contractors determining the proper equipment to deploy for the task. “How do you know what’s too big,” he asked.
The crane, which left under its own power, was added to Benson’s fleet in June, said Chavira, who speculated that unfamiliarity may have contributed to the accident. “He’s got a nice fleet. He’s been a crane operator for 20 years.”