Ortega Highway One Of California’s Bloodiest

The twisting two-lane Ortega Highway, also known as State Route 74, connects Riverside and Orange counties via the Cleveland National Forest -- and it has a killer reputation, especially for motorcyclists.

Tragedy struck on the Ortega Highway near Lake Elsinore Sunday, but a body bag on the treacherous roadway was perhaps too familiar for some first responders.

, lost his life Oct. 2 on the highway after the 2009 Kawasaki motorcycle he was riding struck an embankment while traveling eastbound on the road's switchbacks into Lake Elsinore. That man, a 44-year-old Riverside resident, sustained major injuries.

According to the coroner's report, Kaucky was wearing a helmet but was "traveling at a high rate of speed" and, "for unknown reasons," lost control.

The twisting two-lane Ortega Highway, also known as State Route 74, connects Riverside and Orange counties via the Cleveland National Forest -- and it has a killer reputation, especially for motorcyclists.

The stretch is a favorite for weekend riders. They come to enjoy the highway’s hairpin turns, sparsely populated mountain scenery, and infamous watering holes, like and the .

The combination of dangerous curves, open stretches  -- and maybe a buzz -- can be deadly.

“State Route 74 has a higher than usual number of motorcycle incidents,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Nathan Baer during a . The only other California route to have such high collateral damage for motorcyclists is the Angeles Crest Highway, better known as State Route 2, he said.

“If you’re going faster than 55 mph, you’re just wrong – it’s not safe. If you speed, there’s a good chance you could crash up here,” Baer said as he patrolled the Ortega Highway near the tiny hamlet of El Cariso Village.

In 2010, three motorcyclists died on the highway between Riverside and Orange County. During that same year, 27 riders were reported injured on the route, Baer explained.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Some crashes are never even reported, Baer said. “They just pick up their bikes and leave.”

But 2011 has seen fewer wrecks, thanks in part to the six-month-long CHP motorcycle safety campaign that began in April and ended Sept. 30. During the effort, CHP ramped up patrols on the 33-mile stretch of State Route 74 to catch unsafe motorcyclists.

Then came the end of the six-month campaign, followed by Sunday’s crash and the year’s first fatality.

As of Oct. 3, 2011, the Ortega's Riverside-OC stretch has seen 15 injury collisions and one fatality involving motorcycles, Baer reported.

While Sunday’s crash is under investigation, statistics show motorcycle riding can be hazardous.

“Seventy-eight percent of motorcycle crashes statewide are the fault of the motorcyclist,” Baer explained. “They’re either experienced riders who hot-dog it and push too far, or they’re novice riders.”

As for the Ortega, it’s no place to get cocky or learn how to ride, according to the CHP.

"Taking a turn too fast, a motorcyclist is likely to find himself in over his head,'' said CHP Capt. Ernie Sanchez in a released statement. "This stretch of highway demands concentration and caution.”

Gina October 04, 2011 at 03:52 PM
When will they make a REAL highway for all of us who must drive Ortega to commute? Build a real highway and leave the dangerous curves to the crotch rockets.
Sdenae October 04, 2011 at 04:17 PM
There has been several fatalities this year. This route was originally a scenic route and it has become one of the bloodied Hwy because it has become a commuters route as well as a weekend warriors Hwy. We all need to slow down and enjoy the road again. This is not a personal race track. The ones that use this route through the Cleveland National Forest are missing out on so much. You do pass by 3 waterfalls just off the road and hiking trails. Use caution when on the 74, observe sign that most people do not. As a resident I witness a lot of driver stupidity
Wretch October 04, 2011 at 05:15 PM
Most of the accidents with motorcycles is the weekend warriors think the winding road is their own private La Mans race track. Also Ricky Racers who have to get one car ahead, even though they usually get to the destination at the same time the vehicle they passed does.
Donna October 04, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Yes it is a very very dangerous road. People do speed and dont think of anyone else on the road or there on the phone. I feel bad for the guy who ran over his friend after he hit the ground. My husband use to travel that road for many years but 10 years ago his boss was killed on that road as they were moving the company and they would ride together everyday but that one day in Nov. my husband couldnt as he had appointment. His boss drove a Honda car but a big truck going the other way hit the shoulder and over corrected and hit this car head on and he died at the sence. He was only 40 had his whole life to live because someone wasnt keeping an eye on the road. PEOPLE NEED TO SLOW DOWN as life is too short when your in a hurry and it effects others by your mistakes. Please pay attention to speed limits and drive safe.
Michelle Deskin October 04, 2011 at 06:33 PM
Quite honestly, there are by far, fewer crashes on the Ortega's since they straightened out the road than about 10 years ago! There use to average 1 death a day up on the Ortegas. There are probably more car deaths up there now than motorcycle deaths which is 100% better! Nobody says how many less accidents have been on the Ortega's, especially motorcycle ones! News reporters need to look at the positive side of reporting instead of all the doom & gloom. Our family moved here my freshman year of high school & we've lived here ever since. There has been much improvement in those 29 years. Motorcycles will crash, there will be accidents on the 74, but Praise the Lord the numbers have gone down over the years & not up! It's always a huge trajedy to lose a life. We need to be praying for the family of the lost. What a horrible way to lose a loved one & how sad that his friend will live with this tradjedy forever....:-(
Kim October 05, 2011 at 03:04 AM
I understand all that happened, however is it really necessary to show a picture like that....do the reporters, news, have no feeling as to how the family/friends react to such a picture??? I don't feel the picture needed to be shown on the internet, the article, along with the death, is enough!
Elsinorian October 05, 2011 at 04:09 AM
@Kim, I agree!
Steve Lech October 05, 2011 at 11:39 AM
Gina - The Ortega Highway IS a real highway - it is a scenic highway and never was it meant for commuters. The real problem here is the fact that the leaders of Riverside County have allowed our county to become a dumping ground for housing development after housing development with no accompanying good jobs. They're so busy pandering to their housing development buddies that they don't realize what they are creating here - making people like you go to Orange and LA Counties for proper employment. When we get someone in here who realizes this and makes it so people like you can live AND work in this area, and not have to use the Ortega for work, then we'll have this settled.
Tom Thomas October 05, 2011 at 10:57 PM
I have lived on the Ortega Highway for over 30 years. It is safer now because of the Caltans improvements and the fact that during the commuter hours, there is so much traffic that even some of the crazy drivers recognize that passing cars does little good. Most end up together at the traffic lights at Quest or in San Juan. I like the CHP speed zones. There should be more during the weekends in multiple locations and fine the bikers who are crazy $1500.00 per violation. This will pay for the CHP and make the road safer. The Ortega was not built or designed to be a personal race track and those of us who are sane drivers should not be paying for their hobby. It will be years (maybe never) before there is another alternative to the coast so we need to make it as safe as possible with what we have and hitting violators in the pocket book just might work. Those drivers who respect the road will not be harmed and just might get home safely. Ortega Homeowner
rose October 06, 2011 at 11:58 AM
I don't go up there at all. I hate the Ortega Hwy, people drive crazy up there, too fast, to crazy, its not a roller coaster, it is a road. Reckless people cause accidents.
Katrina October 06, 2011 at 06:35 PM
I commute from Elsinore to Newport everyday (for the past 10 years). I love the drive, and it is a way better commute than the 91. Keep in mind that there are accidents just about everyday on the 91. Ortega is only dangerous if you are driving too fast or not keeping your eyes on the road. You definitely need to pay attention. As someone else noted, there is a lot more traffic on the road which really makes it a safer ride although, unfortunately, there are still the a** holes who think that illegally passing is going to get them to the other side any quicker than the rest of us.
Boniwe F. Reynolds October 18, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Don't blame the highway, it's the idiots who travel the road that makes it dangerous, if people obeyed the speeding limits and rules of the road then these things wouldn't happen. I worked on the highway @ the Forest Service Department and let me tell ya, just because you drive that road everyday doesn't mean you know it....Don't be stupid watch your distance be assertive...
James Henderson February 25, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Gina, you are 100% correct. If folks want to play the driving equivalent of russian roulette, then let them. I don't care how good of a driver one is, the road is only as safe as the worst driver on it. A simple divider down the middle of the road, would do wonders to improve conditions, but I guess that makes to much sense. There really is no excuse for there not being a major corridor between the 91 to the north, and the 76 to the south. Make it a toll road, like those in Orange and San Diego Counties, and it will pay for itself.
moises May 20, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Most motorcycles accidents happen because YOU the car drivers r too busy Texting or talking on the phone!
Cullen Ellingburgh July 31, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Too many drivers both of autos and motorcycles drive well above the speed limit. Recently I was on a Vespa club ride moving along at or slightly above the speed limit. We used turnouts when ever needed but got the finger from one unhappy pickup passenger she also had some unkind words. We caught up with this pickup when they where pulled over for I will assume speeding and they didn't wave back (-:
Pickles December 31, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I only have to drive a bit dangerously when idiots going way too slow don't pull over like the 100 signs telling them to do so.
Ryan May 14, 2013 at 11:11 PM
@kim - I think the picture gives a better dose of reality & is more powerful than just an article.. In my opinion some people are way too sensitive & the media is way too censored for them. I'm 25 & have been riding dirtbikes & motorcycles since I was 12. I've been thinking about getting a street bike but I tend to push myself to the limit & seeing this picture just had a big effect on me. I'm starting to re-think getting a street bike & if I do I'll be way more careful. Pictures that actually show the consequences of being too reckless (like I sometimes am) help people like me more than just words. I'm the kind of person that needs to see it to really believe it...


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