Whitewood Road's Death Toll Continues Mounting In Murrieta

MURRIETA, CA — In 2023, there were three fatal crashes on Whitewood Road, according to Murrieta police. This does not include the three teens killed last summer in a fiery crash in the parking lot of Alta Murrieta Elementary School, 39475 Whitewood Road, that was caused by excessive speed.

Though it’s early in 2024, another fatal wreck was reported on the street.

Lilia Seno, an 83-year-old Winchester resident, died at Inland Valley Medical Center about an hour after the 6:45 a.m. Sunday crash on Whitewood Road, south of Clinton Keith Road, according to the Riverside County coroner’s office.

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A witness told officers that the vehicle Seno was a passenger in was involved in a head-on crash, the Murrieta Police Department said.

Investigators believe one of the vehicles was traveling on the wrong side of the road before the crash, police said.

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Speed did not appear to be a factor in the crash, and according to the Murrieta PD no evidence of driver impairment was found.

The crash comes 10 days after the Murrieta and Menifee police departments conducted a traffic enforcement operation on the Whitewood and Clinton Keith roads. During the four-hour Jan. 18 event, 103 vehicles were stopped for vehicle code violations and 91 citations were issued.

Police said they were focused on the primary causes of traffic collisions.

“Driving while impaired (DUI), speeding, redlight violations, and unsafe turning movements” are responsible for causing the most crashes, according to Murrieta police.

In 2023, there were 81 total traffic crashes on Clinton Keith Road in Murrieta, with one fatal wreck. There were 40 crashes on Whitewood Road in the city, including the three fatalities that don’t include the three deaths at Alta Murrieta Elementary, according to Murrieta police Lt. Henry Romero.

Last spring and summer were brutal on Whitewood Road in Murrieta.

On April 23, a 73-year-old cyclist died after he smashed into the back of a parked SUV on Whitewood Road, north of Poinsettia Street. Josef Binter of Murrieta was riding north on Whitewood when up ahead a 37-year-old woman in an SUV had pulled over, just north of the Poinsettia Street intersection, and parked on the roadside to tend to her child in the backseat, according to the Murrieta Police Department. Binter apparently did not see the stopped SUV and smashed into the vehicle’s rear. Read more here.

A May 21 wreck at Whitewood’s intersection with Carolwood Court, about a quarter mile south of Alta Murrieta Drive, left the female passenger of a Ford F-150 truck with major injuries after the driver smashed into a tree and light pole.

On May 18, a motorcyclist was killed at Whitewood Road and Hellebore Street. Mason Young, 23, of Menifee was pronounced dead at the scene of the 6:31 p.m. crash. A 17-year-old girl behind the wheel of a sedan was making a left turn onto northbound Whitewood from Hellebore, according to Murrieta police. She failed to see Young riding southbound on Whitewood and he broadsided her car. Read more here.

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All three of the above crashes occurred during early evening hours.

There might not be a single, easy action that will stop deaths on streets and highways. Certainly driver behavior is at fault, but what can local government do to prevent the tragedies?

During the first half of 2021, the city of Murrieta conducted speed surveys on 35 street segments, including parts of Whitewood Road. Eight-five percent of the observed traffic was speeding by 5-7 mph on the seven segments of Whitewood Road that were surveyed. However, the speeding was not enough to warrant lowering the 45 mph speed limit on those seven segments. Read more.

Cities are bound by California laws that prevent speed traps. However, in 2021 Assembly Bill 43 was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It gives cities that have completed traffic studies more leeway to reduce speed limits. Patch reached out to the city of Murrieta for comment but has not heard back.

Other things local jurisdictions can do to possibly mitigate crashes are designing, or redesigning, streets to encourage slower, more attentive driving with features like protected left turns; raised crosswalks; protected bike lanes; improving visibility by prohibiting car parking near crosswalks and corners; curb extensions to force slower right turns; and narrowing vehicle lanes to compel drivers to slow down.

It’s not clear how or if those features — which cost money — might save lives on Whitewood Road.

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