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The potholes of Harbor Drive

23-year-old sailor killed

Jamie Scott Powell. The city says he was speeding when he lost control of his motorcycle.
Jamie Scott Powell. The city says he was speeding when he lost control of his motorcycle.

The City of San Diego had been warned numerous times about potholes and dangerous road conditions on Harbor Drive near the Naval shipyard. Those complaints specifically stated the potholes and depressions in the street were especially dangerous for cyclists and motorcyclists.

On March 14, 2014 their fears came true when 23-year-old Navy sailor Jamie Scott Powell was driving his motorcycle back to the Naval shipyard on Harbor Drive near the intersection with 28th Street and hit a road depression near the railroad tracks. The impact ejected Powell from his motorcycle. He flew into oncoming traffic and was struck by an oncoming SUV. He was pronounced dead upon arriving at the hospital.

Powell's family later sued the city. The civil trial is set to begin on July 24.

Attorneys for the city will spend much of the trial addressing the numerous complaints it received about that specific stretch of the road.

In documents I was able to obtain there are citizen complaints which date back to 2006. Many of the complaints mention the danger for cyclists and motorcyclists.

"I can’t believe how terribly uneven the street is, bumps, cracks, splits on Harbor Drive going east ... so many motorcycle[s] drive this route that someone could get hurt. Any new biker rider [sic] could just spin out and hurt themselves. Road needs to be evened out," wrote resident Marie Daugherty on February 13, 2009.

On September 21, 2011 another resident suggested scraping up or "repaving whole section, [it's] a safety hazard to cyclists and motorcyclists especially...One of the worst."

After one such complaint, a city staffer informed the resident that funding for street repairs along Harbor Drive was on backlog.

"This street section has been evaluated and added to our unfunded concrete street reconstruction list where similar projects compete for funding based on need," wrote city public works staffer, John Scampone in January 2012.

In its defense, the city says Powell was speeding when he lost control of his motorcycle. In addition, according to a court document filed by the city, public works employees had repaired several potholes at that location.

"Prior to decedent's accident, the city received complaints about potholes [at that location]," reads the trial brief. "The city promptly patched these potholes...the accident site was last inspected prior to decedent's accident on August 23, 2013 and no potholes were found at that time."

But according to that inspection report, while the worker was unable to locate any potholes he did found the stretch of road to be "a bumpy ride."

In addition, according to other documents filed by Powell's attorneys, new potholes had appeared at the time of Powell's death.

"[I]n March 2014 there were four potholes in Lane No. 1 of the approach where portions of the asphalt [near the railroad tracks] had popped completely off of the underlying concrete. There were also three asphalt cracks in Lane No. 1 of the approach: one in the center lane; one bisecting the lane; and one running parallel to the tracks."

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Jamie Scott Powell. The city says he was speeding when he lost control of his motorcycle.
Jamie Scott Powell. The city says he was speeding when he lost control of his motorcycle.

The City of San Diego had been warned numerous times about potholes and dangerous road conditions on Harbor Drive near the Naval shipyard. Those complaints specifically stated the potholes and depressions in the street were especially dangerous for cyclists and motorcyclists.

On March 14, 2014 their fears came true when 23-year-old Navy sailor Jamie Scott Powell was driving his motorcycle back to the Naval shipyard on Harbor Drive near the intersection with 28th Street and hit a road depression near the railroad tracks. The impact ejected Powell from his motorcycle. He flew into oncoming traffic and was struck by an oncoming SUV. He was pronounced dead upon arriving at the hospital.

Powell's family later sued the city. The civil trial is set to begin on July 24.

Attorneys for the city will spend much of the trial addressing the numerous complaints it received about that specific stretch of the road.

In documents I was able to obtain there are citizen complaints which date back to 2006. Many of the complaints mention the danger for cyclists and motorcyclists.

"I can’t believe how terribly uneven the street is, bumps, cracks, splits on Harbor Drive going east ... so many motorcycle[s] drive this route that someone could get hurt. Any new biker rider [sic] could just spin out and hurt themselves. Road needs to be evened out," wrote resident Marie Daugherty on February 13, 2009.

On September 21, 2011 another resident suggested scraping up or "repaving whole section, [it's] a safety hazard to cyclists and motorcyclists especially...One of the worst."

After one such complaint, a city staffer informed the resident that funding for street repairs along Harbor Drive was on backlog.

"This street section has been evaluated and added to our unfunded concrete street reconstruction list where similar projects compete for funding based on need," wrote city public works staffer, John Scampone in January 2012.

In its defense, the city says Powell was speeding when he lost control of his motorcycle. In addition, according to a court document filed by the city, public works employees had repaired several potholes at that location.

"Prior to decedent's accident, the city received complaints about potholes [at that location]," reads the trial brief. "The city promptly patched these potholes...the accident site was last inspected prior to decedent's accident on August 23, 2013 and no potholes were found at that time."

But according to that inspection report, while the worker was unable to locate any potholes he did found the stretch of road to be "a bumpy ride."

In addition, according to other documents filed by Powell's attorneys, new potholes had appeared at the time of Powell's death.

"[I]n March 2014 there were four potholes in Lane No. 1 of the approach where portions of the asphalt [near the railroad tracks] had popped completely off of the underlying concrete. There were also three asphalt cracks in Lane No. 1 of the approach: one in the center lane; one bisecting the lane; and one running parallel to the tracks."

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Comments
11

I hope the Powell family has excellent lawyers and recovers a fortune from its lawsuit against the City for grossly negligent street maintenance. Many San Diego motorists suffer dangerous tire blowouts, bent rims and misalignment of their cars' wheels, but personal injuries and death? It is wrong to be cavalier about pothole repairs: these craters can maim and kill. Mayor Sunny needs to do something about it.

July 17, 2017

The "Mare" made infrastructure maintenance, notably street repair and conditions, a big part of both election campaigns. He hasn't done squat about them, other than to talk about tax increases. Why does SD have such raunchy streets when other municipalities in the county do so much better? Where does the money go, and where has it gone? That's the question of the new century, and there are many answers, none of them satisfactory. Yeah, he needs to do something. What he's done has had more to do with developers, trying to keep the ungrateful Chargers. and a host of other showy efforts. Fix the streets? Fuhgedaboudit!

July 17, 2017

"In its defense, the city says Powell was speeding when he lost control of his motorcycle."

What kind of speed are we talking about? Five or ten over the posted limit, means real trouble for the city. 40 or 50 MPH over would be speed unsafe for conditions, and limits the City's liability. As Powell contributed to his own demise.

Yes, it sounds harsh, but let's think about this. We can certainly acknowledge Powell was familiar with the condition of the roadway, as he likely traveled it on a daily basis. And, if the road was in such poor shape any excessive speed driving a two wheeled vehicle wasn't safe. Driving is a privledge, not a right, we all have a duty to operate our motor vehicles safely.

The city also has has a duty to provide and maintain safe roadways.

July 17, 2017

JW: Thanks for the comment. I should have added the estimated speed as part of the story. According to the documents Powell was traveling at approximately 55 in a 40mph zone. Witnesses say he was stopped at a red light and took off when it turned green.-dH

July 18, 2017

At 55 MPH that's more than 80 feet per second (FPS), and, according to witnesses, he was accelerating. Combine his 80FPS+ with standard perception time of 1.5 seconds and he's back 150 feet or so just to avoid. Could you see a pothole from half a football Sadly, math, physics and the lack of safe driving techniques led to his demise. Plus, we don't know about time of day, weather or how potential tardiness issues considering his acceleration may have contributed.

Typically there are many contributing issues in collisions which may or may not mitigate liability. Too suggest the city should pay a "fortune" without understanding the facts of any case is not only wrong, but financially crippling to the taxpayers who fund the public liability accounts.

July 18, 2017

That's some nice math work. One thing I should clarify, potholes were not the only issue here. According to the complaint and additional court docs, there were substantial gaps in the asphalt from where the railroad tracks, owned by BNSF, intersect the road. No larger than a 3 inch gap is allowed. Here, however, the gaps measure approximately 8 inches. Considering the alleged potholes, depressions, as well as the gaps at the tracks, it's more than a speeding biker vs pothole. We'll have to wait and see if the jury agrees. Thanks.-dH

July 18, 2017

Dorian: the math is simple, check this out. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GPRwWrAy9WQ But it's even easier, take the speed in MPH times 22 and divide it by 15 or in this case 55*22/15= 80.666666fps. Then 80.66 times 1.5 seconds tell us the number of feet backwards in time. It's called simply a time/distance calculation. So he would need roughly 121 feet, given, speed, reaction, and let's say 30 feet of braking distance.

July 18, 2017

"Sadly, math, physics and the lack of safe driving techniques led to his demise."

You know what, Just Wondering? Driving is a fact of modern life, not a privilege, and it is made more miserable by the number of cars and terrible condition of roadways around San Diego.

Poor people take the execrable infrequent bus; next up the food chain are bicyclists; and then there are young people like swabbies who buy motor bikes or motorcycles because they are fun and less expensive to operate than cars. But they are dangerous. Bottom line is that City roads should be navigable. And when they are not, deadly accidents happen, bereaved families sue, the City is liable and taxpayers pay and pay and pay.

I have seen bicyclists crash and runners suddenly topple over because of crevassed pavement. "Strong Mayor" Kevin Faulconer needs to pay attention and fix what is a citywide mess.

July 18, 2017

All the streets will be repaired..........when pigs fly.

July 18, 2017

Used to commute by bike up and down Harbor back in the 80's and 90's. The carnage was a broken frame, multiple rims, numerous spokes and flats. Finally gave up and took Main St. Not as much room, but I didn't have to worry about being thrown from my bike into traffic. One thing I noticed was that I needed no boundary sign to know when I'd left or entered San Diego city.

July 18, 2017

Update August 9, 2017

After listening to the arguments and examining the evidence in a two week trial, it took the jury less than 30 minutes to decide the City and Railroad were NOT LIABLE in this case. Here is a link to the SD Union Tribune story.

As I mentioned above speed was the cause. Experts in the case testified the motorcyclist, Mr. Powell, may have been going as fast as 72 MPH, while other experts thought his speed was closer to 50. In either case, a young man's life ended tragically.

The lesson here should be young people are not indestructible. While most feel this way the fact is speed kills. Slow down and enjoy life. It goes faster than most young people realize anyway.

Aug. 9, 2017

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