The intersection of PCH and Heathercliff Road, where Emily Shane died, now bears her name. Malibu added the sign Aug. 6, 2011, what would have been Emily Shane’s 15th birthday. Photo by Kyle McCabe
On Easter weekend in 2010, Michel and Ellen Shane went about their normal Saturday morning routine.
The parents of three daughters drove to the Palisades for a spin class, then to West Hollywood for brunch. After running a few errands, the couple returned home to Malibu.
They found the house empty upon their arrival. Gerri, their oldest daughter, was away at the University of Oregon, while their two other children, Leigh and Emily, visited friends’ houses. Michel Shane went to his office to work, and Ellen Shane checked on her children.
Emily, an eighth grader at Malibu Middle School, had slept over at her friend’s house Friday night. She now told her mom she wanted someone to pick her up. That surprised Ellen Shane, because Emily usually asked for more time with friends — not to go home early.
Ellen Shane asked her husband to leave his work and go to Pavilions to pick up Emily. The family often used the grocery store parking lot off of Pacific Coast Highway and Heathercliff Road as a meeting spot.
Michel Shane drove down Corral Canyon Road and stopped at the light at the bottom. Waiting to turn left onto PCH, he saw a car speed by going northbound. A man recklessly driving a Mitsubishi Lancer reached at least 70 miles per hour, according to KCAL.
Michel Shane remembered thinking the driver must be out of his mind.
Vulnerable road users — a term officials use for bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians — die on Malibu-area roads in various ways. People die trying to cross the highway, riding their motorcycles off canyon roads and simply cycling along PCH, according to 41 news reports the Graphic analyzed.
A 25.2-mile stretch of PCH from Entrada Drive, near the Pacific Palisades, to Mulholland Highway, near Leo Carrillo State Beach, has seen the deaths of 18 pedestrians, five motorcyclists and two bicyclists in that time period. Nine motorcyclists and three pedestrians also died on canyon roads.
Two brothers, 8-year-old Jacob and 11-year-old Mark Iskander, died Sept. 29, 2020, while crossing a marked crosswalk on Triunfo Canyon Road in Westlake Village. Police alleged Rebecca Grossman hit the boys while speeding and driving under the influence, according to KCAL.
Erik Berg, a foreman working on a PCH house, died Sept.17, 2021, when he tried to cross the highway around the 22000 block and a car struck him.
A drunken driver leaving Mastro’s killed a motorcyclist in 2016, according to the Malibu Times. One rider misjudged a canyon road turn in 2017 and fell off his bike, according to the Malibu Times. A car making an improper U-turn hit another motorcyclist on Mulholland Highway in 2019, according to the Alpine Law Group.
Two bicyclists died in the Malibu area from 2016-21. A vehicle crashed into the cyclist at the intersection of PCH and Temescal Canyon Road around 11 p.m., on Sept. 1, according to a KCAL article. While KCAL listed the collision as a hit and run, the crash details on TIMS indicate the cyclist was at fault and was making a right turn before the crash.
Four miles down PCH from where he saw the speeding Mitsubishi, Michel Shane approached Heathercliff Road, and saw an overturned car and Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputies arriving at the scene. He assumed the crash happened only a minute or two before he got there. So close to his destination, he thought he better get past the wreck before sheriff’s deputies inevitably shut down the highway. Michel Shane knew the crash happened where Emily might have been walking, but he waved off the idea.
When Michel Shane did not see Emily in the Pavilions parking lot, he walked around the surrounding Point Dume Village shopping center looking for her. He called Ellen Shane and asked her to check with the family of Emily’s friend, thinking he could pick her up at their house. His wife texted him back that Emily had already left the house near Cavalleri Road.
Ellen Shane’s phone rang with a call from Emily. When she answered, a voice Ellen Shane did not recognize asked her for permission to airlift her daughter. She asked who was speaking and what they were talking about, and the officer on the other end of the line identified themselves.
The officer said Emily had been in an accident.
PCH in Malibu is under the jurisdiction of the LA County Sheriffs, specifically the Lost Hills station. Scott Shean, a Traffic Investigator at the station, did not respond to numerous requests for comment before publication.
Lost Hills Sheriffs only cover the canyon roads to the city limit, a couple miles from the coast. Once the road reaches into unincorporated LA County, the California Highway Patrol takes over.
Weston Haver, a public information officer at CHP’s West Valley station, said a majority of the calls the highway patrol gets from the Santa Monica Mountains are complaints about loud vehicles and street racing. Grossman, as one example, faces accusations of street racing when she was charged with killing the Iskander brothers, according to ABC7.
“We have definitely seen an uptick in street racing, mixed with the pleasure of driving on the beautiful canyon roads,” Haver said. “A lot of traffic congestion creates more noise. Residents get frustrated with the noise and want it to stop.”
Haver said most calls CHP receives relate to canyon roads involve cars and motorcycles, but bicyclists sometimes cause problems as well.
“We also have issues with cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road where they’re in a peloton with a large group of bicycles and they’re blocking the roadway,” Haver said. “Technically, if there’s five or more vehicles behind them, they’re supposed to pull off the roadway.”
The highway patrol works with other law enforcement agencies to strategically monitor canyon roads. In November, a street racing task force featured officers from multiple agencies. CHP officers regularly patrol major canyon roads, like Kanan Road, but Haver said they cannot cover all roads all the time.
“Even if we had 200 officers [in the canyons], which we don’t, it’s hard to be in the right place at the right time,” Haver said. “That’s why we are dependent on calls from the public.”
After hearing Emily had left for Pavilions, Michel Shane started walking toward the crash. On his way, Ellen Shane called him from their landline and said she had a sheriff on her cell phone telling her Emily was hurt. He asked his wife to tell the sheriffs not to move Emily until he got there.
Michel Shane arrived at the scene and only found emergency personnel, not his daughter. An ambulance had taken Emily to Zuma Beach, where a helicopter could land in a parking lot and airlift her to a hospital. Officers would not tell Michel Shane how serious Emily’s injuries were, but one gave him a ride to Zuma so he could fly with Emily to the hospital.
The officer Michel Shane rode with tried to open the ambulance when they arrived at the helipad, but an EMT pushed them back. Ten minutes later, an EMT came out of the ambulance and told Michel Shane his daughter was dead.
The City of Malibu published a PCH Safety Study in 2015 that recommended 130 projects to make the highway safer. Of the recommended projects, 63 involved pedestrian safety and 25 improved bicycle safety. Projects included moving and constructing crosswalks and bike lanes along the highway.
Appendix 4H of the study featured the final recommended project prioritization list. The highest-priority project related to vulnerable road users was to improve striping and to add bike lanes wherever possible all along Malibu’s PCH corridor. Installing pedestrian signs near Moonshadows restaurant is high on the priority list, as well as adding a pedestrian hybrid beacon — a light used to stop cars at crosswalks — near McDonald’s and Nobu.
One project, ranked 114 out of 130 on the priority list, would construct an underpass beneath PCH to allow pedestrians to walk from the Trancas Country Market to Zuma Beach.
The Malibu City Council discussed the Moonshadows pedestrian crossing at their Nov. 8, 2021, meeting. That project, as well as the McDonald’s and Nobu pedestrian beacons and the Trancas underpass, do not appear as a current project on the city’s website.
The City of Malibu’s Public Works Director, Rob Duboux, did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Malibu began safety improvements before the 2015 study came out. Fewer than two months after the safety study, Malibu completed a bike route improvement project. The project added two miles of bike lanes on the ocean side of the highway by Zuma Beach, restriped lanes and added signs to seven miles of PCH from Busch Drive North to the city limits.
The city also added a pedestrian hybrid beacon near La Costa beach in 2019 and sidewalks near bus stops in 2015. Previously, the city installed six speed advisory signs all along the Malibu corridor in 2007.
In 2000, Malibu started on a pedestrian safety project, but ran out of funds until Caltrans supplied money to finish it in 2003. It focused on increasing pedestrian safety for students, and combined with two similar projects in 2006, it created safe walking routes for students at Malibu Middle and High School, Juan Cabrillo Elementary, Webster Elementary, Our Lady of Malibu and Point Dume Marine Science Elementary.
Malibu has allotted $31 million to transportation improvements over the past decade. The money came from county Measures R and M, and the city still has $9 million to spend. At the Nov. 8 city council meeting, members gave suggestions for improvement projects and expressed an openness to public input on the topic.
Caltrans improves safety on PCH mainly by installing pedestrian crossing signs, pavement markings, pedestrian hybrid beacons, speed limit signs and speed feedback signs, as well as refreshing pavement delineations and markings, Caltrans Information Officer Michael Comeaux wrote in a Dec. 15 email to the Graphic.
One Caltrans project would install speed feedback signs near the PCH and Corral Canyon Road intersection.
The Division of Planning will finish its Comprehensive Multimodal Corridor Plan in 2023, Comeaux wrote. The study will examine PCH from Interstate 10 to U.S. Highway 101.
“[The study] will explore safety improvements, assess the challenges related to climate change and identify opportunities to create or enhance Complete Streets features aimed at improving safety and mobility for all users and especially the VRUs,” Comeaux wrote.
Caltrans did not answer questions about if it considers PCH, or the Malibu section of the highway specifically, to be especially dangerous for vulnerable road users.
Emily Shane died April 3, 2010 on PCH. Her parents said the impact from the Mitsubishi knocked her out of her lace-up Vans and sent her flying into a sign.
They started the Emily Shane Foundation in her memory.
“I didn’t want her to be that poor 13-year-old killed on PCH,” Michel Shane said. “I didn’t want that to be her legacy.”
Michael Shane started a website where people could share their good deeds, and it eventually turned into the foundation. It now provides academic support to underprivileged middle school students.
Multiple people called 911 when they saw Sina Khankhanian speeding on the highway before he aimed his car at Emily Shane and killed her. He went to prison for second-degree murder in 2012 with a sentence of 15-years-to-life in prison. In November 2021, a judge denied Khankhanian parole, but he will be eligible again in 2024, according to the Malibu Times.
The Shanes sued Khankhanian and said they reached a settlement with his family.
“We buried her, we mourned her, but we had to relive it for a total of two years,” Michel Shane said. “On the first trial, the jury was a hung jury, so we had to go through it a second time.”
PCH presents drivers with different challenges than canyon roads around Malibu because of the nature of the roads. Even compared to more similar roads, the Graphic’s analysis of accident reports shows that Malibu’s stretch of PCH poses a greater-than-average danger to vulnerable road users.
Nineteen vulnerable road users died between 2016 and 2020 on the Malibu stretch of PCH, including 13 pedestrians, five motorcyclists and one bicyclist, according to TIMS.
Only five vulnerable road user fatalities occurred on PCH just north of Malibu from 2016 to 2020. Four motorcyclists and one pedestrian died on the 19.7-mile length of highway from Mulholland Highway to U.S. 101.
PCH saw many more vulnerable road user fatalities south of the Malibu area, though. In LA County, 33 vulnerable road users died on PCH from 2016 to 2020, across a 37.2-mile stretch. Five bicyclists, 19 pedestrians, and nine motorcyclists died on the highway from Entrada Drive South to the county limits.
The stretch of PCH south of Malibu, which runs 12 miles longer and through more densely populated areas than Malibu’s PCH, saw more vulnerable road user deaths.
The southern stretch of PCH averaged 0.89 vulnerable road user deaths per mile from 2016 to 2020, while Malibu’s stretch averaged 0.75 vulnerable road user deaths per mile. South of Malibu, PCH runs through Santa Monica, Redondo Beach and Long Beach, as well as other cities with higher populations than Malibu.
Federal Boulevard in Colorado aligns with Highway 287 for 11.9 miles, with stoplights, businesses and residences along the road, and two lanes in each direction, just like PCH. Unlike PCH, this stretch of Federal has no parallel parking on its shoulders and a speed limit ranging from 40 to 45 miles per hour, not 50 to 55.
The Highway 287 stretch of Federal reaches south into the city of Denver. Westword magazine called Denver’s stretch of Federal the city’s most dangerous street for pedestrians, and while Federal continues through Denver after splitting off from Highway 287, the entire street retains that reputation.
The Colorado Department of Transportation website only lists accident data up to 2019, so Federal and PCH cannot be compared from 2020 to the present. From 2016 to 2019, the Highway 287 stretch of Federal saw half of the 16 vulnerable road user deaths the Malibu stretch of PCH did. The eight deaths on Federal included seven pedestrians and one motorcyclist.
Federal averaged 0.67 deaths per mile from 2016 to 2019, when the Malibu stretch of PCH averaged 0.63.
Eighteen pedestrians died on the Malibu stretch of PCH from 2016 to 2021. Former Malibu resident Al Sturgeon and current resident Bradley Griffin have run along the highway while recognizing the danger and trying to stay as safe as possible.
Sturgeon lived at Pepperdine for 11 years, first as a student at the Caruso School of Law, then as the dean of students, dean of Graduate Programs at the law school and a minister at the University Church of Christ. His daughter attended the same school as Emily Shane when she died.
Emily’s death made Sturgeon’s daughter nervous about him running along PCH, so from 2010 until he left to work at Lipscomb University in Tennessee in 2019, Sturgeon avoided running on the highway as much as he could.
Because he served as the team’s chaplain, Sturgeon sometimes saw the Pepperdine Cross Country team run along PCH to get to Puerco Canyon Road, and he said it made him nervous.
“It could have quickly been, what a terrible event, but also what a terrible story,” Sturgeon said. “Fifteen students could, I mean, easily, if just one car would have done something, just not been paying attention in the morning sunlight.”
Griffin, divisional dean of Fine Arts and Theatre professor at Pepperdine, runs about 40 miles a week and lives on Pepperdine’s Malibu campus.
To get his runs in before the work day, he often starts before the sun rises and does not go too far from Pepperdine. When he runs along PCH, he runs against traffic by the Malibu Pier, where there is a sidewalk. Griffin also wears a reflective vest so drivers can more easily see him, he said.
His son runs for Malibu High School’s cross country team, and the team runs along PCH during some of its practices. It makes Griffin uneasy, but he said there isn’t anywhere else they can run from their school without crossing or running along the highway.
“I know they’re all together and there’s a big bunch of them,” Griffin said. “If you’re crossing PCH, I hope you’re not crossing against the light or anything.”
Although only two bicyclists died in the Malibu area from 2016 to 2021, local cyclists Daniel Zitter and Drake Deuel said they feel unsafe whenever they ride PCH.
Zitter rode for the University of California, San Diego team while in college, races amateur events now and worked for three companies in the bicycle industry before starting a job at Ring home security.
In June 2021, Zitter moved to Santa Monica. He used to live in Orange County and said he enjoyed riding PCH there, but around Malibu, he avoids riding the highway alone.
“Here, I don’t have any desire to ride PCH, unless it’s to get to a climb with a group and get past all the crappy stuff,” Zitter said. “It’s just not fun.”
Zitter’s riding group meets on Saturdays in Santa Monica. He said 50 to 100 people will ride together down PCH, averaging around 30 miles per hour and taking up the right lane of the highway.
Deuel competes in professional races and works at Zwift, a home cycling and running virtual training app. He also avoids PCH when he can, but while he trained for the time trial at the 2021 U.S. National Championships, he had to ride somewhere flat and he rode PCH every day.
“It’s not safe,” Deuel said. “I felt unsafe every single day, but I just did it.”
The danger of riding PCH partially motivated Deuel to move from Brentwood to Woodland Hills. From his current apartment, he can access the canyon road climbs he loves to ride without using PCH to get to them.
Zitter and Deuel both said the canyon roads around Malibu feel safer than PCH and are some of their favorite places they have ever ridden.
Pepperdine senior Sam Durdack grew up around motorcycles. His father and uncle both ride recreationally, and his stepfather raced professionally on dirt tracks. Durdack started riding at 16 and now rides his bike in Malibu — mostly for fun or to get from his George Page residence to main campus.
“If I’m going to Target or In-N-Out with friends and I have a lot of people in the car, then I’ll take [my] car up there, but riding canyon roads is awesome,” Durdack said. “I love it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Durdack said he prefers riding on canyon roads over PCH because, while both are dangerous, he feels more in control in the canyons.
“I trust myself as a rider and I know that anything bad on one of those roads that happens to me is likely going to be my fault,” Durdack said. “I wouldn’t say it’s more or less dangerous. I’d say it’s a different kind of dangerous.”
Although Durdack feels safer and prefers the canyon roads, more motorcyclists have died on them than on PCH since 2016. Nine motorcyclists have died on canyon roads, while PCH has only seen five motorcyclist deaths.
Michel and Ellen Shane have tried to propose ways to make PCH safer over the years, including adding bollards on the side of the road in high-pedestrian-traffic areas and adding signage to warn drivers about the high-risk area in Malibu.
None of their ideas came to fruition; they said Caltrans always shot down their proposals for one reason or another.
“They don’t care,” Ellen Shane said about Caltrans. “That’s the bottom line. They don’t care.”
Caltrans did not respond to Ellen Shane’s comment.
Michel Shane is a film producer and started working on a documentary about PCH in 2013 that he expects to be finished in two to three months. Ellen Shane said she hopes it will raise awareness about the dangerous road and lead to safer driving.
“Maybe if people coming here know, ‘Hey slow down, drive safely, don’t brake suddenly because you see a parking spot,’” Ellen Shane said. “Pay attention, you know, all of that, maybe that will help.”
Since Emily’s death in 2010, PCH has seen adjustments and improvements. Michel Shane said he does not think they have made a significant impact on the road’s safety, though.
“What can they do, short of blowing it up and moving it?” Michel Shane said. “You’re stuck with it. It’s there. There’s mountains on one side, there’s the ocean on the other, what are you going to do, do two levels? There’s really, truly, nothing to do.”
The elimination of traffic fatalities may be impossible, but limiting them will prevent more people from experiencing losses like the Shanes did.
“I created three hearts — my three girls,” Michel Shane said. “I lost one, so mine will never be full again. And what I’ve — I can be happy, I can laugh, I can enjoy life but I don’t think I’ll ever feel joy.”
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Contact Kyle McCabe via Twitter (@kyledotmccabe) or by email: email@example.com