Accident on Highway 1 in Moss Beach/Montara kills one, seriously injures another

posted by Barry Parr
Thu, July 21, 2005

Another serious accident, this time fatal, has resulted from a vehicle stopped to make a left-hand turn on Highway 1 between Montara and Moss Beach.

Wednesday night, at about 7:30pm, Sherre Smith, 56, of Half Moon Bay was killed when her northbound car was forced into oncoming traffic while waiting to turn left. In April, at nearly the same location, a southbound car waiting to turn left was struck and forced into the opposite lane where it was hit by another vehicle, injuring seven.

Smith traveling north on SR-1 in a red Acura Integra. North of 16th Street in Montara, She stopped, preparing to make a left turn. (In the CHP press release, this location is described as “north of 16th Avenue in Moss Beach”).

While she was stopped, her car was struck from behind by a 1999 white Chevrolet Astrovan, driven by Brent Clark, 25, of Half Moon Bay. 

The force propelled the Acura forward and into the southbound lane of traffic on Highway 1.  As Sherre Smith’s Acura entered the southbound lane, it was broadsided by the gray 2004 Ford Taurus, driven by Carol Mitchell, 68, of El Granada. 

Sherre Smith was fatally injured in the collision.  Carol Mitchell, who struck her, sustained major injuries and was taken to Seton Hospital in Daly City.

This account is based on a press release from the California Highway Patrol. If you have any information regarding this collision please contact Officer Story of the CHP in Redwood City at (650) 369-6261.

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That intersection has been an accident waiting to happen, and unfortunatley, this time someone lost their life.  Very sad.  My solution:  Traffic sign prohibiting left hand turns into the Montara Light House. 

Either that or create a turn lane.

How many people need to be injured or killed before a solution is at least proposed?

Montara Mike

There was a really bad accident in almost the exact same place just the day before. This is a dangerous area to be merging onto or off the highway.

I took a couple of photos with my camera phone.


Comment 3
Tue, July 26, 2005 11:17am
All my comments

My name is Brian Britton, and I am from Sullivan Illinois.  My family and I had stopped at the light house for some picture taking the evening of the accident.  We didn’t witness the accident, but based on what we heard, we knew it would be a bad one.  I rushed up the paking lot, and was stunned to see the amount of damage done to Miss or Mrs. Smith’s car.  Having assisted in treating accident victims in the past, I assumed the worst.  I attempted first aid and C.P.R., but given the condition of the car, it was to no avail.  The thing that shocked me most, was the amount of traffic that “whizzed” by the scene before the authorities arrived.  Even with cars and people in the road, there were those who just didn’t seem to care.  Even as the police were directing traffic, there were drivers who just didn’t seem to care to be cautious.  No matter what the resolution, whether you prohibit left turns, or install lights, people who don’t pay attention to their surroundings will continue to be the cause of these tragic accidents.

I think Mr. Britton performed a corageous and compassionate act by stopping to help. I think it’s also important to keep in mind that stopping on a highway or freeway is very dangerous. I’ve done my fair share of stopping to help out in accidents, but it is something I do rarely and with the greatest of caution. I would rather have passing drivers focused on the task at hand—driving—than looking, slowing, or stopping, as that only leads to additional accidents. Good Samaritans frequently end up being maimed or killed in subsequent accidents.

My next-door neighbor shared a piece of practical advice with me last night after he read this article:

If you’re waiting to turn left, keep your wheels pointed forward until the moment you turn. Don’t turn your wheels until you’re ready to move.  The reasoning is that if you get struck from behind, you will be pushed into oncoming traffic.

I haven’t been able to verify this tip, but it makes sense.

One thing we must all consider here is that yes, this is a dangerous place in which to make a left turn off of the highway without the availability of a turn lane, but more importantly, driver error needs to be criticized here, not simply the road.  I have lived in Montara for 25 years and have come upon drivers waiting to make left turns from either the North or South at this very spot, and in the times when an accident seemed immenent, I was able to avoid tragedy by paying attention to what’s in front of me and if necessary, swerving to the shoulder to avoid an accident.  The accident that occured last Tuesday (the one that Mike has photos of in the posting above) could have been avoided had the driver at fault taken this precaution.  We are all responsible for being defensive drivers, and when driving on the coast in what is a mostly residential area, this means always being on the lookout for someone who may stop short in front of you on the highway to pull into their homes.  And if you do find yourself in a situation where and accident is unavoidable, it is never acceptable to swerve in to oncoming traffic (as in the accident referenced above) rather than to the shoulder!  The woman driving the SUV in this accident swerved into oncoming traffic (rather than to the shoulder) and almost took the life of someone who otherwise would likely have been unaffected by any collision that would have occured had she stayed in her lane!  Don’t be so quick to blame the road, Coastsiders (unless we plan to create turn lanes and stop lights every 40 feet along HWY 1 between Montara and HMB), blame the irresponsible and reckless drivers!!!

Left turns in either direction off of Highway One in the area of Carlos, the Hostel, and 16th are dangerous beyond belief. I have discussed this with my wife, and we now agree that unless the left turn can be completed without stopping for oncoming traffic and it is clear of traffic behind us, we will not sit there in the middle of the highway waiting for someone to plow into us from behind….Much safer to make left turns in the left turnouts or to make a safe turnabout to approach the intersection for a right turn. The “Carlos/16th Ave.” area is not the only one with this problem….At the Hawaiian Ono grill I regularly see people make illegal left turns into their parking lot, stopping in the middle of the traffic lane to cross a double double yellow line. Half Moon Bay Nursery has also had numerous rear end collisions from people stopping in the traffic lane, to make a left into their parking lot, with cars zooming down off the grade.

Montara1980: I’d wager there’s a lot more traffic on the road than there was in 1980, both locals and tourists.

Clearly, driver error played a role here. I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the now-dead left-turning driver because we don’t know what happened or what we would do under similar circumstances.

However, there is clearly a problem with the highway on this stretch. A design that results in deadly errors, even when carelessness or recklessness is involved, is a bad design. Highways must be designed to anticipate, minimize, and mitigate stupidity whenever possible.

Also, even if we have someone to blame, that’s cold comfort to the blameless dead and injured—close to a dozen so far this year.

I am not blaming the people who were hit as a result of driver error, only the driver who hit them.  These accidents, though having occured in an area that has proved to be a dangerous one when it comes to left hand turns, could have been avoided had the at-fault drivers been paying attention or used better judgment when making a move to avoid an accident.  I still live in Montara, so I am very aware that traffic has increased steadily on this stretch since 1980 and that this specific location can be a dangerous one.  I am not saying that I don’t believe steps can or should be taken to rectify the problem; they need to be considered, and soon.  But I am also not willing to lay the blame solely on the road.  As I said, I have narrowly avoided collisions here myself and have been privy to the details of multiple accidents that have occured and I am confident that a large factor in the occurance or aviodance of an accident is the actions of the driver who causes them.  I am speaking more specifically to the Tuesday accident (of which I have detailed information), which very nearly lead to the death of someone close to me and whose extensive injuries are the result of one drivers very bad judgment.  Make no mistake, I lay no blame on the victims, but as I’ve said, am also unwilling to lay all blame on the road.

I believe that we ought to alter Highway 1 in a very simple way to reduce the chance of tragic accidents like this, and that it can be achieved at a very low cost, and very much in keeping with the rural character of the coastside.

For almost the entire length of the coastside, Caltrans owns a pretty wide right of way along the highway.

Why not simply separate the northbound and southbound lane by a fairly wide, grassy median?

This would do two things: reduce the chance of head-on collisions, and give vehicles (and pedestrians) a space between the two directions in which to wait before crossing or entering traffic on the far side of the highway.

On a separate note, Barry, your neighbor is correct, and everyone should learn this technique: while waiting to make a left turn, keep your wheels straight until the opportunity to turn appears.  Keeping your wheels pointed along your side of the road is a way to ensure that if you are hit from behind, that you do not cross into opposing traffic.  I witnessed a similar accident in which the victim had her wheels turned, and although there was no opposing traffic, her car was propelled across the road and into a telephone pole, severing the pole with the force of the impact.

In driver training in high school, I was taught that you NEVER turn the wheels until you will be able to start and complete the turn.  Otherwise, you WILL be pushed into oncoming traffic if you’re hit from behind.  This applies to any left turn where you have to stop and wait for oncoming traffic to clear, even if you’re in a relatively safe left-turn lane.  I don’t know why this isn’t taught anymore.

As to Barry’s “I haven’t been able to verify this tip, but it makes sense.”, I can’t believe that it’s not intuitively obvious (i.e., why would you need to verify it?)  If you have the wheels turned, you will go left into oncoming traffic whether the reason for forward motion is moving your foot from the brake to the accelerator or getting hit from behind.  Note that when stopped, you are likely to be only lightly holding on the brakes, and the shock of being rear-ended will likely cause you to release the brake anyway, allowing the car to go in the direction the wheels are pointing.


Thanks for your efforts.  It must have been very difficult for you, so once again, thanks…..

Okay, this is mildly related, but I thought I would throw it out there… During the 60’s/70’s, my family and I would drive 152 (Pacheco Pass) all the time.  A very nasty, two lane, well traveled road with lots of big rigs, this place had fatal accidents all the time.  So much so that coming out of Gilroy, you would see a sign that read “Welcome to State Route 152, 160 people have died on this road.  Drive carefully.”  The especially creepy thing was that they would increase the number on the sign yearly!  There were also signs which read “Passing is poison on 152”, with skull and crossbones! Unfortunately, driver “education” did nothing, and the accidents didn’t decrease until they made it a four-lane road, with a divider.

My point…. It’s a lot easier, and probably a lot more effective, to try to change the road rather than the driver.

Montara Mike

I am trying to get in contact with “Lighthouse Kris” to get the details of the SUV/BMW accident on July 19 (you posted a comment underneath the photos posted by MontaraMike).  Please post here if you would be willing to help the victim of this accident learn what occured.  We thank you very much for your help!  Also, help from any other witnesses would be greatly appreciated!

Comment 14
Mon, August 1, 2005 5:14pm
All my comments

I live on the coastside of Hwy 1 near 14th street - requiring a left-hand turn when traveling North. Even with alot of notice by slowing down way ahead of time and having the blinker on for quite some time, there are some drivers that keep coming fast or don’t pass by on the right (towards the shoulder - there is room there).

I agree with mayo that it just too dangerous to stop and make the turn. Better to use a turn off and come back going South.


Montara Mike and I have also discussed this at length…We fully expected that a tragedy like last week’s was inevitable. We have needed to turn left onto Carlos heading southbound to exit to our home. It was either a moving complete turn without stopping, or go on to Etheldore. No way would we stop in the traffic lane. I agree with Mike that you cannot change behavior that easily, especialy when many on Hwy. 1 are not local, and do not appreciate the danger….I see it all the time, people coming to a dead stop in the single lane of a high speed highway, to make a left turn…It is completely legal according to the CVC, but so unbelievably dangerous that the California State Legislature ought to address the issue….How many people have been killed, maimed or injured in accidents in precisely these same circumstances around the state….As stated earlier, I have seen idiots turning left illegally into the Hawaiian Ono Grill across a double double yellow line, likewise illegally into the Shell station at 92 and Main, into Half Moon Bay nursery…But no doubt the “commercial interests” who benefit from those dangerous left turns will protest any changes.

Guess what.  Another accident in Moss Landing on route 1 - killed 2 people October 1st 2005.  My daughter and I were driving to Monterey when we missed being part of the accident by about 45 seconds.

The SUV had 2 passengers that were killed when they lost control and rolled twice before striking a silver sedan.

The passenger of the sedan got out and used his cellphone.  When the ambulances and police cars came, they put him on a stretcher - he was shaking (probably in shock)...and an IV attached.  Someone pronounced the passengers in the SUV dead.  We stopped thinking we might assist, but felt staying out of the way was the best bet.  So sad to see the SUV luggage in the street, with other belongings knowing they were deceased.  I hear there are many accidents there, why, cannot someone realize that with that many serious accidents obviously something should be done with that stretch of highway.  Something was not planned right with so many people hurt and dying in tragic accidents there.

I am quite shook up seeing two people dying today and another hurt. 

Hopefully someone will wake up and smell the coffee and insist change be made.