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Proceed with caution

Local blames poor signage for vehicle damage

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The way she tells it, the road closure came out of nowhere. Judith Baron, a retired woman living in the outskirts of Paso Robles, said she was heading home from San Miguel on Aug. 12, taking a short cut down a narrow, rural road under the summer sun. Her large truck was towing a horse trailer with a pony she’d brought to a low-income girl’s birthday party, and the girl’s 18-year-old uncle, Chris Kimble, was riding shotgun beside Baron. Neither saw any signs warning motorists to seek alternative routes.

“I went back the long way to see if there were signs,” Baron said, “I looked everywhere. There was nothing.”

A bridge on North River Road was undergoing abutment repairs, but no county workers were on site that Sunday afternoon. The only people there were a man and woman whose RV got stuck after they tried to turn the massive thing around.

Records from Weather Underground show that temperatures hit 107 degrees that day, and Baron said the stranded people had no water and no cell phone reception. She let them use her phone to call for help, and the San Luis Obispo office of the highway patrol confirmed with New Times that they received a call at 3:20 p.m. that day and sent a tow truck to assist.

Jay Kohles of John Boy’s Towing said the RV had transmission problems and wouldn’t go into reverse. His driver reported seeing ample signage.

“I can’t say whether they were placed correctly or not, but my guy saw them,” Kohles said.

In order to turn her truck around, Baron had to jack-knife the horse trailer to the point that it scratched her fairly new and expensive vehicle, she said. The process took a half an hour, and the subsequent retracing of her steps added another 20 miles to her trip.

As the passenger, Kimble was free to actively scan the road for any warnings they might have missed coming in, but he saw nothing, he said.

Construction on the bridge has since been completed. County officials said that the repairs cost roughly $50,000 and that in-house labor finished a week ahead of schedule.

Deborah Harris, a resident of North River Road, said she saw county workers taking signs down and putting them back up throughout the construction process. Another resident said he saw drivers breeze past the signs on multiple occasions. Jeremy Ghent, a road maintenance supervisor, said his foreman reported that the signs were in place Monday morning.

“This is something we try hard to get right,” Ghent said. “It’s disappointing she didn’t see the signs.”

By the time Baron got home Sunday, her horse was in poor condition, and a veterinary friend told her the animal suffered from heat prostration, she said.

“It cost me a great deal of suffering and a huge amount of gas,” Baron said.

But she won’t be seeking restitution from the county.

In such incidents, citizens can file a complaint with the county’s Risk Management office, whose staff would consult with the road crew involved and advise the county’s insurance company whether or not to reimburse the property owner.

Baron said that she went through the process six years ago and was dismayed to find the county’s insurance representative leading arbitration efforts. The rep sided with the county, a decision Baron described as biased and predictable.

Calls to the Risk Management office were not returned as of press time.

The day after the incident, Baron called the county Public Works Department to complain, a move she said was met with coldness and hostility. Deputy Director Dave Flynn faxed her a response asserting that a large sign was posted on a barricade at Wellsona Road, the last possible turn off before the closure. Flynn said another sign, this one a trailer-mounted job with flashing lights and a programmable message, was posted at a wide turnaround point a quarter mile north of the bridge.

Baron and Kimble said there’s no way they could have missed such a sign, especially after they came to the closure and turned around with the specific intent of finding one.

“They have this ‘F you’ attitude that needs to stop,” Baron said. “We’re paying their salaries.”

In a “he said/she said” argument like this, it’s clear that someone is either mistaken or lying. Baron said she’s sure she isn’t mistaken and has nothing to gain from lying.

“I’m just sharing the inadequacy of county government and the frustration of dealing with them,” she said.

Staff Writer Nick Powell can be reached at npowell@newtimesslo.com.

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