Riego Road residents call Sutter County stretch dangerous
By Ashley Gebb
For the Appeal-Democrat
Six months ago, a car slammed into a tree in Matt Gnagy's front yard, burst into flames and nearly cremated its driver.
Then in August, a drunken driver failed to make the same turn and flew off Riego Road and into the house's deck, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage and minor injuries to the car's three occupants. And again, last month, a car vaulted off the levee roadway, bounced twice and landed in the Sacramento River.
Though the driver escaped with minor injuries — and was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, residents in the rural stretch of Sutter County want to know when enough will be enough to get the county to address what they say is a dangerous and deadly intersection.
"People say it takes a death. We thought we had met the threshold," said Alan Menigoz, who lives a few houses north of the intersection. "I don't know what the next threshold is."
Before levee improvements were completed last year, Riego Road intersected at Garden Highway in a "Y," with the road curving left and right up onto the levee. Now it's a "T," with drivers climbing a small hill to approach the levee and a slight decline before the stop sign.
Sutter County is taking steps to address the volume of crashes at the intersection, said spokesman Chuck Smith. Rumble strips were installed last week and a "Stop ahead 500 feet" sign is being installed — both of which go beyond national safety standard requirements.
"The county is not done looking at the intersection," Smith said, adding that public works officials are waiting on additional information from the California Highway Patrol to assess what is causing the crashes.
Menigoz was pleased by news of the rumble strips Friday, although he had not yet been home to experience them. He said it will be a stopgap until better improvements can be made. "The intersection itself is flawed," he said. "I'm thankful they are at least trying something."
Other neighbors are not so sure how effective these recent changes will be.
"You can barely even feel them when you drive over it, and I think they are too close to where you have to stop anyway," Gnagy said.
Neighbor Stephen Simard was not impressed.
"Those little bumpy things? They better not be done," he said. "The last thing (drivers) are going to hear going 80 mph is 'blip' before they are launched into the river. The point is nothing is going to stop these guys. It's pitch black. By the time they leave that stop sign at Powerline and Riego, they are hauling ass. They come up and they are already launched."
The road needs a streetlight, like one installed at Elverta Road last year, flashing lights or fixing the configuration entirely, Simard said.
Reconfiguration of the intersection would be most effective, Gnagy agreed. In the meantime, the intersection has dealt a blow to his property value and continues to be a source of stress.
"Every time you hear a car drive by in the middle of the night, you wake up and wonder if a car is going to come flying into your yard," he said.
Supervisor James Gallagher has heard complaints from a few neighbors and does recognize multiple accidents have occurred since the configuration was changed. He thinks the county should proceed with removing a 40 mph speed limit sign just before the intersection.
"Clearly, you are not going to be able to take anything up ahead at 40 mph," he said. "That sign is deceptive."
Returning the configuration to how it once was has its own challenges, including cost and safety issues, he said, but options will be explored.
"It's ruined people's property, one guy's deck got completely destroyed; there are concerns with what's going to happen when someone runs into the house," Gallagher said.
California Highway Patrol Officer Jodi Beck said the rumble strips should help.
"It should — they are loud," she said. "It depends on their sobriety level and everything else. They still need to drive carefully and safely."
In the last two recent crashes, both drivers, one from Vacaville and one from Lincoln, were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Beck did not have the autopsy report on the driver who died in February, but he was from Roseville.
"Those people are coming from out of town. It's like the edge of the world, anyway," Menigoz said. "They don't know the roads ... You could put up signage and flashing lights, but it can't change the fact you are coming over a blind hub, and there is nothing to stop you from going over the road."
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.