Updated after the jump: Caltrans responds, and the ghost of Penhall expresses unhappiness with his job.
Originally posted at 8:30 a.m.
The victim of a late-night crash on the 10 West has been identified as 21-year-old Connor Penhall, a Caltrans subcontractor and the son of racer-turned-actor Bruce Penhall.
KNX news radio reports that the famous dad rushed to the scene of the accident last night to identify his son and say goodbye.
As for the driver of the Toyota Rav4 that hit young Penhall:
California Highway Patrol officials tell City News Service that 37-year-old Tatsuhiko Sakamoto, who was apparently drunk, barreled through a coned- and signed-off area of the 10 West while Caltrans was doing construction work.
Penhall was reportedly operating a concrete saw when he was hit.
Sakamoto was immediately breathalyzed and arrested at the scene for “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated,” “felony DUI” and “driving without a license.” (Although his city of residence is listed as Arcadia, Sakamoto only had a Hawaii driver's license, not a California one.)
The crash occurred at about 11:45 p.m. yesterday, just 45 minutes after the stretch of freeway was closed off for the night.
Like his dad — who was the World Speedway Champion for motorcycle racing in 1981 and 1982 — 21-year-old Penhall has apparently done some racing of his own. Here he is at the Baja 500 in 2009 (a race for trucks, not motorcycles):
One day before he died, Penhall Tweeted: “Nothing worse then hear a loud smack by a car, and a dog screaming… :(“
The celebrity son grew up in Corona; his Facebook profile says he went to Lee Pollard High School. And his photos are mostly of him behind the wheel, including this one of him “messin” around on a motorcycle, out in the dusty Mojave Desert town of Adelanto:
Under-construction stretches of L.A. freeways at night have proven a dangerous place for both drivers and road workers. Last summer, a young war vet died after crashing his motorcycle into an excavator — on this very same stretch of the 10 in Baldwin Park.
UP NEXT: Caltrans officials say there's nothing more they could have done to prevent this accident. Also, some of Penhall's past commentary on his construction job shows he may have wanted out.
A few hours after the Penhall death was announced, news blog LA Late ran an “exclusive” on the public's “new concerns about Caltrans safety” and the victim's own “displeasure about his job.”
Caltrans addressed that first part in an interview with L.A. Weekly today.
“This was a full freeway closure,” says Caltrans spokeswoman Maria Raptis. “We do these quite often.”
According to Raptis, the cones and signage set up around the perimeter of the 10 freeway construction was “about as safe as you can get.”
Penhall actually works for a San Diego company called Cut N Core, which is being contracted out by Caltrans. Although Raptis says that “the contractor pretty much owns the zone during construction,” she says an “aggessive and stubborn” construction-safety unit from Caltrans inspects each site before the work begins.
“Caltrans has a pretty good safety system, so whatever was required at any of their job sites” was in place to protect Penhall, says a Cut N Core representative who refuses to give her name.
However, despite all these precautions, Raptis laments that “it just takes one driver and we're all at risk. You, me and the highway workers.”
In the almost century-long history of Caltrans, 176 employees have died on the job.
When unlicensed DUI driver Sakamoto hit Penhall, the young worker was chipping away at a years-long Caltrans project to build carpool lanes in both directions on the 10. The lanes will stretch just over 2 miles, from the La Puente exit to the 605, and cost the taxpayers about $165 million overall.
As noted by LA Late, Penhall may not have been loving the daily grind:
Just talked to @BJam_NOHO and my job sucks..
— Connor Penhall (@connorpenhall) March 20, 2012
Dear hay-Zeus, please make sure I'm not working tomorrow
— Connor Penhall (@connorpenhall) March 1, 2012
A saliva drug test!?
— Connor Penhall (@connorpenhall) April 4, 2012
R.I.P. Connor Penhall.