By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD
Did you ever have a traffic accident that was just overwhelming? This occurred in the mid 70’s and as usual I’m working graveyard shift. I’ll describe the scene for you. The Hollywood Freeway (aka 101 Freeway) winds through the Cahuenga Pass. Cal Trans has closed the entire southbound lanes for pavement repair. Everyone has to exit the Cahuenga Boulevard exit which has a stop sign at the bottom of the ramp. Cal Trans has started closing down lanes at Barham and funneling everyone down to one lane by Cahuenga.
About 2:30 AM, a semi-truck loaded with strawberries from the Central California barrels down the Cahuenga off ramp. About half way down, the driver realizes there’s a stop sign at the bottom of the ramp. Now, this truck is still at freeway speeds when he attempts to make a hard right turn. Well, you guessed it—the trailer flipped over on its side. The driver was ok but the load inside the trailer began to smoke. Of course, the fire department came out and sprayed that foam that they carry in the fire truck.
Now the trailer is open, and the concerned citizens didn’t want to see the free strawberries go to waste. The fire captain advised me that the foam they have sprayed will give anyone who eats the strawberries a bad case of diarrhea.
My partner and I chase off the strawberry lovers, but we now have a new problem. The entire Hollywood freeway is still coming down the off ramp. Now, they can’t turn right on Cahuenga. We start directing them northbound. That seemed to work for cars and small trucks. Semi-trucks couldn’t make the turn, so we had to have them back up Cahuenga. This turned into a traffic nightmare.
To complicate matters some of the fine Hollywood citizens were stealing the strawberry flats. Hope they have more than one bathroom and lots of toilet paper.
We decide to have Cal Trans open the freeway. The foreman tells us he can’t open the freeway until 5:00 AM. That’s 2 1/2 hours away. We need another plan. Hey, lets close the freeway off ramp at Highland Avenue.
Bill Barren, my partner in hell that night, and I jumped into our lowest-bid city police car. We drove north on Cahuenga to head off the morning rush hour traffic jam. Now, Bill and I have never attended the Cal-Trans lane reduction class. And we have only two boxes of flares. We throw out a bunch of flares and traffic begins to brake sharply and swerve to avoid a bigger traffic collision.
We suddenly feared for our lives. After a few near misses, we abandon our plan and exit the freeway. We get back to the overturned semi and just when we think things can’t get worse we notice that the truck load is again starting to smoke.
Of course, the fire department again responds and now Cahuenga Boulevard is completely blocked. The good citizens of Hollywood have abandoned the strawberry picking season. I heard the freeway was backed up to the Canadian border.
Ok, maybe that was an exaggeration, but it was a mess. We figured that was the problem of the California Highway Patrol. Bill and I disappeared and made a bee line to Winchell’s.