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.”