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Students' fatal crash was on curve of Highway 1

Original post made on Oct 14, 2008

The crash that killed three Stanford University graduate students last Friday night occurred on a portion of Highway 1 where the road curves to the left, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Jim Covello.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 14, 2008, 1:57 PM

Comments (20)

Posted by jill
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 14, 2008 at 3:51 pm

This story adds nothing to the previous accounts of the accident.

It will some time before we know who was driving, if mechanical failure, speed or alcohol were involved I suppose.

Posted by reader
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 14, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Oh dear, somebody can't read!

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 14, 2008 at 9:02 pm

The article says Sahm was driving. You can actually tell a fair amount by the skid marks--did the driver try to stop? How fast was he going? How soon . . .

I don't think there's any reason to assume drugs or alcohol were involved. It's a dangerous road at night pitch-black, Jeeps don't maneuver well and all three of them were from parts of the country where they don't have winding fast roads hugging huge cliffs over the ocean.

Sounds like they missed the curve.

Posted by Megan
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 14, 2008 at 10:54 pm

In contrast to the comments posted by jill, I am grateful for the additional research that was put into this article. Several NEW pieces of information were provided: 1) the accident occurred on a portion of Highway 1 where the road curves to the left; 2) this portion of the road has a wide, dirt shoulder; 3) the jeep overturned numerous times; 4) Sahm was identified as the driver.

As someone who has read just about every article on the topic in the hopes of some new/meaningful information, this article was very useful. First, (2) supports the fact that there must have been some sort of collision involved. Second, (3) tells me what the experience of my schoolmates was like and how quickly it happened (some don't care for this, but it's important to me).

Finally, I would say it's a huge jump to assume drugs or alcohol were involved.

Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2008 at 1:10 am

This is 2008, why not embed a Google map of the accident site:

Web Link


Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2008 at 8:40 am


Thanks for the google link. Fantastic

If you go to the street view and manipulate the arrow you can actually drive the road at different speeds, it is pretty scary.

I can see how if you were distracted or going too fast you could easily pull of to the right, especially at night, and the is no barrier just some low boulders.

What a tradgedy

Posted by Beth
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2008 at 10:44 am

You can see the general outline of the Big Sur coast, including a label for Hurricane Point here:
Web Link

And a sideview/elevation map here:
Web Link

Note that when heading south, Hurricane Point is at the top of a long incline, and as the road turns left, it begins a two-mile steep decline. The left curve that drops down at the top of Hurricane Point can be somewhat unexpected even during the day.

To the friends and families, I'm very sorry for your tragic loss.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2008 at 1:47 pm


It doesn't sound like there was a collision--there would be skid marks for that--it's possible Sahm pulled the jeep over to avoid a collision.

Speed could have been a factor (along with the lack of maneuverability of jeeps). The road is pretty smooth there and the ascent to the point is relatively straight--so on a dark night (which is always the case in Big Sur), it would be possible to not know the curve was there and overshoot.

The other possibiity is that they could have pulled over and then when starting up hit the gas instead of the brake or Drive instead of Reverse. There's a pull-out around there.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Is that spot before or after Nepenthe going south? many people stop there for a drink unfortunately, you do not need to above the legal limit to have impaired driving on a road like Route 1 at night.

The idea that they had pulled over sound pretty ridiculous, It is night so there is nothing to see.

The CHP should be able to estimate the speed from the damage to the truck and also through skid marks.

Very sad, what a waste

Posted by CalNative
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2008 at 4:08 pm

I'm a good and experienced driver, I have driven that route numerous times and I believe that I'm familiar with every single curve of that torturous road, yet I wouldn't drive it at night for all the money in the world. Since the students were from New York and Ohio, I believe, I wonder if it was their first time driving down that section of HWY 1, or their first time driving it at night. Not a good idea even when one is familiar with the road. What a tragic and unnecessary end to such promising young lives.

Posted by Ed
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Sharon and CalNative,

I was raised in that region, and have driven HWY 1 many times, day and night, both by car and motorcycle.

There have been a number of vehicles that went over the edge, in the past several decades. It is not a frequent event, but it is not a surprise, either.

As a "local" I knew that speed is dangerous, and that attention to detail is a must. Many times, cars would build up behind me, wanting to travel too fast, then I would pick out a turnout and let them go by. On rare occasions, I saw hot shot sports cars passing on curves, causing potential crashes. HWY 1 is a road meant to be taken slowly.

I have no idea what happened in this accident, and I really feel for the families of the victims. I think we should just allow the authorities to make a determination, without speculation

I can say that Hurricane Point is well north of Nepenthe.

Posted by Alan C.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2008 at 4:29 pm

The tragic accident may have simply been caused by the wind. A few years ago while traveling on that section of Highway 1 in a VW camper were were travelling slow and below the speed limit. Rounding a corner were blown 2/3 of the way across the road by a powerful wind gust. Fortunately were were on the inside lane -- but, had we been on the outside lane we too might have gone off the road and over the edge. It was a frightening -- no control situation.

Posted by sally m
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 15, 2008 at 9:47 pm

Great information

Does the driver have any history of drinking to excess or DUI? the lawyers will sort this out no doubt, but reporters could contribute to explaining this case, he was the older one and seemed to like to drink, even a legal amount of alcohol can create problems on HW 1

"During our undergraduate years, I remember late night chats at the Phoenix, having deep discussions about the meaning of life over cocktails in the poker room or by the fire place."

Driving HW 1 is difficult in daylight, at night it requires great caution.
This is a terrible waste of life and we need to know how it happened.

Posted by lj
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Why oh why do we still have roads with no guardrails when there is a 600-ft drop off to one side? What a preventable tragedy.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2008 at 1:27 am


Hurricane point isn't really a guard-rail situation. There are rocks there at the edge. Lots of Highway 1 are along cliffs, but that section, except for that turn, isn't that bad. If they'd made it most of the rest of their trip would have been fairly straight (for Big Sur, that is.)


I don't think there's any reason to assume that alcohol was involved. I think since friends and family of the victims are reading here that we shouldn't be careful about that kind of speculation.

There are various reasons to pull over--reading a map, taking a leak, looking at the ocean in the moonlight, looking at the stars, making a phone call.

It's a dangerous road and it happened at a turn at night. There's no lighting and if you're unfamiliar with the road, you can make a tragic mistake. All of the victims were from out-of-state and from fairly flat areas. Two of them were first-years. It's quite possible that *none* of them knew the road or had been on it.


I don't like that road at night myself. My preferred way to deal with it is to go south on 101, cross over and then drive north. That said, the part of 1 I really driving is along the north coast around Marin and Napa.

Posted by Henry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2008 at 10:12 am

There is something mysterious and strange about the circumstances of this crash.

I doubt if the 2 other occupants would ride in the truck if the driver had been drinking, they sound like a couple of very responsible young men.

The mystery is that it was a clear night, normal traffic, early in the evening way before the drunks are out, a modern vehicle, a 29yr old driver who is presumably in his prime in terms of coordination and vision, something just does not fit.
The CHP report will sort it out no doubt, that will take some time.

Posted by Sam
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 16, 2008 at 2:00 pm

RIP. The safe speed ,as indicated by the warning sign, is 30mph around that 90 bend. Barring an unlikely coincidence such as a blown tire, loss of steering, ice on the road, a 100mph wind gust, the excessive speed is the most probable cause (unless of course the driver is under the influence or not paying attention to the road).

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2008 at 2:05 pm


30 mph--so, heading uphill in what I recall is a 45-50 mph zone--doesn't slow down enough or misses the sign--yeah, that could happen and jeep's aren't that maneuverable.

How sad.

Posted by Local driver
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2008 at 3:22 pm

How sad for all the families and friends.

That drive is dangerous. On the uphill part of the curve, the driver could have mistaken the curve he was on for a straightaway if his line of sight/vision was off a bit and he was focussed on the next curve ahead of him which might explain the lack of skid marks. The passengers could have been snoozing. It is a windy, dark drive after the sun goes down so there isn't much to see and the passengers could have been tired and not noticed the curve either.

Sounds like it was just a very tragic accident. I'm sorry for your losses.

Posted by oh well
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 16, 2008 at 11:54 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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