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By Miriam Raftery

August 27, 2013 (San Diego’s East County ) – California Highway Patrol Sergeant Dave Dreher has responded to East County Magazine’s inquiry regarding a truck with over-sized load that broke down, sitting for two weeks on State Route 94 in Dulzura before it was finally removed last week. Residents had complained of long delays and inadequate notification.

“It’s not unusual for CHP to escort loads of this size all over the county while you are sleeping,” Sgt. Dreher told ECM. But he added that it is “rare” to have a load this large (over 230 feet long)  travel on a roadway of this size unless that’s necessary to reach the ultimate destination.

Cal-Trans reviewed the permit application and advised that a CHP escort would be needed.  CHP issued the permit.  A CHP variance load coordinator in Orange County called Dreher, and that’s where confusion occurred.

“I asked, `What’s the destination?’” Dreher said. “He said `440 Tecate Road.’”  That’s the address of the border crossing. “I thought, wow, it’s going to Tecate….I took that to mean the ultimate destination…If anything like this is ever proposed again, I would ask more questions.” 

In fact, the truck was manufacatured in Denver and was bound for Ensenada, Mexico, on the Pacific Coast.  Residents have asked why it wasn't routed through the San Ysidro border crossing on a straight route along I-5 to the border. 

“It wasn’t me who suggested the route, it was the person who bought the machine,” Shawn Pankow, owner of KD Specialized, told ECM when asked why the company asked for the load to be routed through Tecate. ”They needed it to be brought in through the border."

Pankow said he doesn’t know who bought the machine. “My client was a truck forwarder who I haul it for; I have no idea who the client was.”  That truck forwarder was Sky Truck.  Pankow added that the load, a compressor, can be used for either mining or pipeline operations.

Asked if he would route such a large load through a different port of entry in the future, if the destination allows that option, Dreher at the  CHP replied, “Absolutely.” He  added, “Any mistakes that were made are on me.”

Dreher said he did not know why the trucking company, KD Specialized, asked Cal-Trans to move the load over the Tecate crossing instead of the Otay or San Ysidro ports of entry.

But Reto Kaufmann, vice president of Sky Truck in Los Angeles,  did have a simple explanation for the route selection.  He advised that the San Ysidro does not allow cargo and that both the Otay and Calexico border crossings have height and width limits that prohibited this load from crossing at those locations.

In San Diego County, “the cargo port now is Otay and the maximum is 15 feet 10 inches in width and 16 feet in height,” he said, adding that authorities are “in the process of making those gateways more modern…They are working on a new lane which basically will not be restrictive.”  It could be another year or so before that is open, he said.

“If there was a route that wasn’t so difficult, we would have taken it,” Kaufmann added.  He confirmed that the load was ultimately destined for the Ensenada area for industrial purposes.

It is unclear whether other ports of entry in Texas, New Mexico or Arizona might have been options, or whether the equipment could have been shipped via ocean routing to the new port in Ensenada as an alternative.

CHP picked up the load on I-8 in the Buckman Springs area.  “We should have been able to get it down to Dulzura or Jamul in one night, and in another night to Tecate,” Dreher said, adding that major mechanical breakdowns are unusual.

But this truck broke drive shafts and rear ends connected to the axle.   The truck was steered by remote control by people walking next to the truck.  On twisting, steep roads, “an incredible amount of torque” was put on the system.  More power units to haul the load may have helped, Dreher suggested, noting that he is not an engineer. 

The truck broke down in Dulzura on August 6 and again a few feet down the road on August 7, where it sat until August 14.  

Residents have said the rig blocked both lanes and obstructed traffic in some manner for over 50 hours, causing detours of up to a couple of hours.  Dreher disputes that timeline.

“It ultimately sat approximately 20 hours blocking one lane.”  He says both lanes were never blocked due to the breakdown, but admits that traffic was slowed significantly due to the load moving very slowly, with an extra-wide load blocking both lanes as it moved forward.    “The only time this load was completely stopped for 20 hours was near Dulzura, but nobody had to wait more than two minutes,” Dreher contends.  “I aws there from 3 am until 8 am the first time around,” he said, adding that he was directing traffic on site.  “I would question anybody who would say they were slowed down for hours,” he said. “That simply didn’t happen.”

But later he conceded he  was not there during the entire 50 hours in question, and admitted that some motorists might have turned around in frustration and gone the long way around, which could take a couple of hours.

Miller Towing responded to the breakdown with a wheel loader to pull the broken down truck off the road onto a dirt shoulder.  Dreher calls the equipment a “life saver”.

Removing the broken down rig was delayed further because the trucking company determined it would need two more trucks – providing a total of two push trucks and two pull trucks. That required getting a new permit from C al-Trans.

The full load, which now measured over 300 feet with the additional two trucks, was moved the night of August 20 and arrived at Tecate at 7:30 a.m. on August 21.  As of our talk with CHP on Friday, the truck was still on this side of the border, awaiting an escort over the border at night. The port of entry would be opening after hours to avoid inconveniencing border travelers, Dreher added.

 As for concerns that fire equipment couldn’t get through, Dreher said “there were very few times when a fire engine could not have gotten past us,” noting that there are fire stations in Dulzura and Potrero on either side of the situation. Whether those stations were manned or not, given the recent reports of dark days at some rural fire stations, however, is not clear.

Asked about how the stuck truck could have impacted evacuations if a wildfire had occurred, however, he replied, “A mass evacuation is something that we can’t plan for. That’s always a concern.  I do believe that our department did a good job of notifying emergency services in the area and providing warnings for motorists in the area.”  Specifically, however, he said that CHP notified Border Patrol and the Sheriff’s Department, but “we did not notify the Fire Department.”

A Sig Alert was not issued into many hours into the situation, much to the consternation of local residents.

Regarding the lack of notification to media regarding the slowed and blocked highway, Dreher said, “I understand their concerns and I think that we need to be transparent.” He added that signs were posted advising motorists of delays and to choose alternative routes. 

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