Winter death toll raises concerns about Amador’s roadways

George Williams says he will forever think of Ridge Road and Hamricks Grade as “Dead Man’s Hill,” after three separate vehicles plummeted off its edge in a matter of hours on Dec. 30, resulting in multiple injuries and two fatalities. Among the dead was Williams’ friend, Iris Davy.

Williams is part of growing number of locals who fear Ridge Road and Hamricks Grade form a sort of killing trap during winter months. Meanwhile, a Stockton man whose brother lost his life on Jan. 17 is raising concerns about a different stretch of road in Amador County.

Today, a small memorial to Davy and her boyfriend, Michael Bloom, sits on the grass just feet away from where the two went rolling to their deaths in a Jeep during the dark hours of Dec. 30. The wreckage and bodies were discovered by California Highway Patrol officers around 2:17 a.m. as they responded to an entirely different vehicle accident in roughly the same spot on the road. It is unknown exactly what time Davy and Bloom were killed that morning.

CHP investigators have pieced together that Davy lost control of her Jeep as she hit a patch of black ice. She and Bloom were both thrown from the vehicle when it barreled down the steep pocket of the hill. The other vehicle accident, which had actually drawn emergency responders to the scene, involved a 2000 Nissan that had also been caused by black ice on the road. Black ice was also the cause of the crash of a 2000 Dodge Durango that occurred just before 2 a.m. that morning on Ridge and Hamricks Grade.

In the wake of the chaotic morning of Dec. 30, the Ledger Dispatch was contacted by Robert Jarrell, of Pine Grove, who said he had nearly been killed in his vehicle a month before at Ridge Road and Hamricks Grade. On the morning of Dec. 30, Jarrell was one of dozens of passing cars that witnessed firefighters begin to recover the bodies of Davy and Bloom. The realization that someone had been killed in the same place that his own accident had recently occurred was aggravating to Jarrell, who sent numerous messages to the Ledger Dispatch expressing grave concerns about the overall safety of Ridge Road and Hamricks Grade.

From Williams’ perspective, drainage issues are why the stretch of roadway is so dangerous. He believes that rain water flowing across both lanes of the road consistently freezes into lasting sheets of ice, making for a natural catapult down the hillside. “Someone needs to realize the drainage on this dangerous hill,” Williams wrote in a letter to the editor. “It has to be addressed and fixed so no one else has to write a similar letter about someone they love.”

Workers at the Ione Chevron station, where Davy worked, explained that they were still trying to come to terms with her sudden death. “It was devastating for all us,” said Kelly Rusher, a Chevron employee and close friend of Davy. “A lot of people in town felt like they knew Iris. She was really nice and always had a smile on her face. It’s not a good thing to know there have been so many accidents at that one spot on the road. There’s not even a guard rail up.”

CHP officer Craig Harmon said that assessing the danger of any roadway in Amador is a balancing act between determining how unforgiving the area is and what responsibility drivers have for their own safety.

“Up until Dec. 30, there was not really a big accident picture for that spot on Ridge and Hamricks,” Harmon observed. “We’d seen some wind problems and speeding issues, but there are other roads in Amador we consider far more dangerous. Unfortunately, big accidents cause change to occur. On the other hand, if (Davy and Bloom) were wearing their seat belts, I think they would still be alive. That part is frustrating for us.”

Harmon agreed that a roadside barrier might make the spot where Davy and Bloom died less hazardous.

Another person who is raising questions about a different area of Amador County is Richard Leung, whose brother, Allen Leung, was hit and killed on his motorcycle at the intersection of Shenandoah and Fiddletown roads on Jan. 17.

According to CHP investigators, Allen was driving toward Plymouth from the wine country when 74-year-old Charmion Kendrick came to the end of Fiddletown Road, rolling through a posted yield sign at 30 mph to collide directly with Allen’s BMW motorcycle. CHP officers noted that, while a degree of fog was present, Kendrick could potentially face criminal charges in the case. Regardless of Kendrick’s possible culpability, Richard Leung believes the intersection is all together dangerous.

“My concern is with the yield sign,” Richard told the Ledger Dispatch on Tuesday. “Right now, if someone’s driving westbound on Fiddletown Road, they basically have to skip across an entire lane of on-coming traffic to keep going into Plymouth as they pass through that yield sign. My understanding is that there have been several accidents at that spot. I think they at least need to have a flashing light at the sign, so that in rainy and foggy conditions people who are unfamiliar with the area know there’s a dangerous yield situation there.”

Richard added that his brother Allen, who was from Sacramento, appreciated Amador County and loved driving through the Gold Country on weekends.

Both Ridge Road and the intersection of Shenandoah and Fiddletown roads are maintained and controlled by Amador County.

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