submitted to Tahoe Mt. News in Sept. 07 .. never ran ...
By Kathryn Reed
A banged-up 1997 green Nissan pickup sits in the driveway of one of the few houses on Mount Rainer Circle that still exists. But its condition has nothing to do with the Angora Fire.
Brent Kuemmerle was waiting the outcome of the Aug. 22 Small Claims Court case he had against Caltrans before deciding for certain what to do about his vehicle.
El Dorado County Judge Stephen Valentine ruled Kuemmerle was 60 percent at fault, Caltrans 40 percent for the March 2 accident on Highway 50 between the Caltrans avalanche gun tower and passing lane on Echo Summit. He was awarded $2,160, having asked for $6,000.
Kuemmerle’s truck was headed west when it collided with a Caltrans Dodge pickup driven by James Matlock.
Kuemmerle went to court because he disagreed with California Highway Patrol Officer D.R. Nichols’ conclusion that he was completely responsible. Despite the endless hours it took in research and letters back and forth with the state, Kuemmerle would do it again. He said fighting for what he knew was right took patience he wasn’t sure he originally had.
Taking on the system isn’t something most people do. Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger said his agency only faces about three Smalls Claims cases a year.
The CHP report claims Kuemmerle “failed to observe the flashing over head amber warning light … crossing over painted double yellow lines, and into the opposing lane on a blind curve, in a an attempt to pass (the Caltrans vehicle).”
Kuemmerle contends the amber light was never on, nor did the Caltrans driver signal. He had hoped the amber light issue would have been discussed more in court.
Dinger deferred questions about how drivers of passenger vehicles are supposed to treat amber lights on state vehicles to the California Highway Patrol.
“If they pull off and the amber lights are on still you can pass, but motorists need to be aware a Caltrans vehicle may be beginning to turn around or make a U-turn,” CHP Officer Jeff Gartner said. “Caltrans has an obligation to drive safely and watch for traffic behind them. The warning light should tell people to back-off, slow down and watch out for what’s going on ahead of them.”
Kuemmerle said he was paying attention.
“He all of a sudden hits his brakes and pulls off to the right. He is doing avalanche control. It is right after one of the few storms,” Kuemmerle said. “We go to pass what I thought was a stationary vehicle. Instead of stopping, he goes into a U-turn and we are right in his way. He is coming in through the passenger side door. To me that is an illegal U-turn. The judge said if the amber light is on he is OK to do this type of thing.”