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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.”

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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