In 2017, Jeffrey and Wendy Keely lost their son Conor after he crashed while on Highway 138. Today, the parents hope their successful efforts to improve a portion of the road will help prevent future tragedies.
Conor, a Hart High School graduate and whose name is on the Santa Clarita Youth Grove, was on his way home from hunting while traveling eastbound on Highway 138, just west of 300th Street in unincorporated Los Angeles County.
The 20-year-old passed a semi-truck on the narrow, two-lane highway and crashed into a power pole after an oncoming vehicle caused him to swerve off the road and fall into an embankment. He succumbed to his injuries a few hours after being airlifted to the hospital on Nov. 20.
“Conor was such a great person,” Wendy, who is also the mother of a younger Hart High School student, said on Monday. “Why would this happen to us? I thought my mission would be to do something so that it wouldn’t happen to someone else.”
After their son’s death, the couple visited the crash site and noticed that the road did not have proper signage to notify motorists not to pass other vehicles in that area of the narrow, twisting Highway 138 — something the Keelys believe was a major factor in the crash.
“It was clear to us that there was something wrong with the road. We decided to go after the state and get the road fixed,” said Wendy.
In 2018, the Keelys brought a wrongful death complaint against multiple agencies, including the state of California and Los Angeles County, stating that the defendants were “negligently, recklessly, vicariously, tortuously and unlawfully responsible in some manner” for the Nov. 20 incident, according to court documents.
The case was dismissed in late 2019, leaving the Keelys uncertain if anything would be done on Highway 138. After a recent visit, they soon found out.
“We went out and saw that there was a ‘Do Not Pass’ sign and paint on the road, just west of 300th Street,” said Wendy. “I want to say thank you for doing what we asked for. I’m thankful that they listened to us.”
Caltrans District 7, which oversees Highway 138, had installed the “Do Not Pass” sign and road markings on Nov. 21, 2019, as part of ongoing efforts to improve the roads, said Jim Medina, the agency’s public information officer, adding that Highway 138, toward Highway 14, would receive “Pass with Care” warning signs by fall 2020.
Wendy believes the family’s “efforts pushed the envelope to get the job done sooner.”
Highway 138 earned the nickname by motorists “Blood Alley” in the 1990s, when it averaged about 10 fatalities per year before a 2006 widening project, according to the Law Offices of Larry H. Parker, an automobile accident law firm in Southern California.
The additional signage on Highway 138 gave the Keely family “a little peace of mind for such a horrific tragedy,” Wendy said.