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Palm Springs Police Department outlines protocol for closing wash areas after low visibility causes deadly three-car collision off North Gene Autry

News Channel 3 reported yesterday that low visibility caused by wind and sand led to a three-car collision on North Gene Autry Trail at the wash.

An investigation by the Palm Springs Police Department tells us that all three vehicles were traveling Northbound on Gene Autry when the collision happened. 

The two vehicles in front had slowed down because of the low visibility on the road, and a truck behind them failed to slow down. Essentially it rear ended the middle car and pushed it into the car in front of it. 

Unfortunately the collision was fatal, killing the driver and the two passengers in the middle car. 

I spoke to Lt. Araiza with the Palm Springs Police Department to learn why they didn’t close the road before hand.

Lt. Araiza described road conditions on the day of the accident.

"Depending on how fast the gusts were, because they were changing, it would be difficult to see basically, the car in front of you," said Lt. Araiza.

Just two weeks ago when Tropical Storm Hilary passed through the valley, Palm Springs Police Department in cooperation with the city preemptively closed all three wash areas, in and out of Palm Springs. 

Which led us to ask why they didn’t do the same thing this weekend.

"Obviously, when it came to Hilary, we anticipated a lot of rain. So we preemptively close that, but when it comes to wind gusts, those are hard to monitor or keep track of," said Lt. Araiza.

I asked Lt. Araiza if the police department monitors wind advisories.

"With the wind advisories, we didn't really understand the impact it was going to have on the sand, with the recent storms. It's caused a disruption in the sand, the way it's laid out throughout the desert. So a lot of the fine sand is now at the top," said Lt. Araiza.

That sand forming what looks like dust clouds throughout several valley roads.

But low visibility and blowing sand have been a problem in the wash areas long before Hilary. 

"Typically, it's the job of our street's team to go out and take a look when they do roadway re-openings. And if the wind was blowing, and it was too dusty, they would have made a determination at that time that it was unsafe to do so. When they went out and opened it, there was likely no indication that dust was going to be an issue or visibility was an issue at that time," said Lt. Araiza.

Yet, even with closures drivers still navigate the wash areas roads recklessly.

We’ve seen people ignore road closures and barricades. At times people get out of their car and physically move them, other times people drive right past them and knock them down.

We asked the Palm Springs Police Department why they can’t send out officers to the wash areas when road conditions are dangerous. 

"It's absolutely difficult because it requires a lot of manpower for each roadway. We need at least two officers to shut down the roadway and that takes from our resources that are working other assignments," said Lt. Araiza.  

Palm Springs Police Department says they’ve taken measures to get additional signboards that will warn motorists. 

In the meantime drivers are told to do the following:

"If there's road conditions that don't permit you to go that speed, you have to reduce that speed to traverse that roadway safely. So you know, really it would require signage to remind people some of the rules of the road that they had learned as they're going through the process to get their license," said Araiza.

Palm Springs Police Department is also asking that drivers alert the department if roads look unsafe. That way they can assess the road, close it if needed, or even send a police cruiser out there with its lights activated to remind drivers to slow down. 

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Bianca Ventura

Bianca Ventura joined KESQ News Channel 3 as a reporter in February 2022.


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