Laguna Canyon Road was closed to traffic for nearly six hours on Sunday afternoon after a Tesla collided with a utility pole, sending overhead wires onto the road, authorities said.
Laguna Beach police and paramedics responded around 11:40 a.m. to the Big Bend area on Laguna Canyon Road for a report of a single-vehicle traffic collision
“The male driver claims he blacked out while the vehicle was on ‘driver assist,’” Lt. Jim Cota, a spokesperson for the Laguna Beach Police Departments wrote in an email.
The Irvine man driving the Tesla was transported to a local hospital for observation of minor injuries. Authorities found he was not driving under the influence and no arrest was made, Cota wrote.
Laguna Canyon Road was closed between Canyon Acres Drive and El Toro Road, according to a Nixle posted at 11:58 a.m. A Frontier repair crew arrived at 4:15 p.m. and opened Laguna Canyon Road to single lane traffic both ways by 5:30 p.m., authorities said.
Like all closures of the state highway, Sunday’s event significantly disruptive to the community, Laguna Canyon resident Penelope Milne said. Fortunately, residents didn’t lose electricity due to the crash.
“When something like this happens and there’s a minor inconvenience, it reminds you of what could happen in a disaster,” Milne said referring to a wire-sparked wildfire.
During the deadly Camp Fire, residents of Paradise, Calif. were blocked in by downed utility poles and wires while evacuating. At least one firefighter used a bulldozer to clear wires from a road during that incident.
These utility pole-involved traffic collisions underscore the urgency for Laguna Beach officials to continue pressing Caltrans and state lawmakers for funding to complete the Laguna Canyon Road Master Plan, Milne said. The long-discussed project would see overhead wires placed underground and the addition of pedestrian and bike paths.
The council-approved Laguna Beach Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Plan includes a recommendation to underground utility lines along evacuation routes but funding has lagged. Outgoing city manager John Pietig has said he hopes Southern California Edison will do more to help local jurisdictions with critical undergrounding projects.
This latest incident just underscores the importance of following through with city officials’ mid-term recommendations for wildfire mitigation now that they’ve completed the short-term recommendations, said Matt Lawson, chair of the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee.
“We keep getting these wake-up calls and we dare not hit the snooze button,” Lawson said.
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