On Feb. 18, 2011, a black pickup truck sped through a red light at Highway 62’s intersection with Yucca Mesa Road. The truck crashed into the left side of bus driver Johannes Gysen’s minivan, pinning Gysen inside his vehicle.
The pickup, driven by Kimberly Mendelez, had been speeding through the desert at 70 mph.
Marijuana, which was found in Mendelez’ bloodstream following the crash, is known for triggering neurogenesis — but when combined with the cocktail of painkillers and psychoactive drugs also present in her bloodstream, it’s unlikely that any brain cells were being generated.
It took approximately 20 minutes to cut Gysen out of his vehicle, and he succumbed to his injuries in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Mendelez and her five-year-old daughter were uninjured in the crash.
While it may have been a tragedy, it certainly wasn’t an uncommon occurrence on Highway 62’s winding pathway through the desert between the Arizona border and the Coachella valley. The crash that claimed Gysen’s life was just one of an astonishing 182 deaths that have happened on Highway 62 since 2002, a new investigation by the Desert Sunreports.
The stretch of Highway 62 that runs between Parker and Twentynine Palms may be the deadliest area along this road. With 16 vehicle fatalities taking place from 2002 to 2012, Parker’s portion of Highway 62 is 12 times deadlier than the average road.
The Desert Sun’s investigation found that drugs and alcohol, despite having a hand in the crash that killed Gysen, wasn’t that common of a cause for crashes on the highway. In fact, a mere five of the 16 Highway 62 incidents near Parker involved alcohol, and only two of them involved drugs.
The investigation found that 11 of the 16 crashes to take place near Parker happened between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which is peak season for Californians who travel to Parker for river recreation.
With the majority of these crashes taking place during the daytime — meaning most drivers weren’t being blinded by a rising or setting sun — and with speed ruled out as a major contributing factor, what could be the reason for this highway’s disproportionate body count?
The answer, the Desert Sun reports, may be Highway 62’s lack of a meridian to separate the two directions of traffic and prevent head-on collisions, or barriers and rumble strips to prevent cars from drifting off to the right. That means vehicle drift is the likely reason for many of Highway 62’s crashes.
The news isn’t all bad — the Desert Sun’s report showed that fatalities on Highway 62 are in fact decreasing, thanks to bolstered efforts by cities like Parker to improve the road’s safety.
In addition, California’s Department of Transportation, Caltrans, said it plans to have spent about $50 million in the period from 2008 to 2018 on safety improvements, lane additions and expanded shoulders on the highway’s most dangerous segments.
Even so, it may be worth it for Parker residents to consider alternate routes that don’t involve driving on Highway 62 — it just might save your life.