By JOHN HARLOW and GABRIELLA BOCK
The death of a Ruthless Ryderz motorcycle club member in a collision with a teenage driver at the intersection of Sunset and Chautauqua boulevards last weekend has prompted renewed demands for long-overdue improvements to lights and sightlines at the traffic black spot.
Although a complete narrative will not emerge until the Los Angeles coroner’s office holds a formal inquest over the next few weeks, witnesses told the Palisadian-Post that the tragedy had been a long time coming and was over in seconds.
At around 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 2, up to 50 riders from the Santa Clarita-based motorcycle club were returning from a day-long ride to Saddle Rock near Santa Barbara along West Sunset Boulevard through Marquez Knolls and the Village.
Witnesses said they had been weaving at “excessive” speeds, with bursts of up to 70 mph, throughout Pacific Palisades.
At the same time, driving west along Sunset from the 405, was a black Mercedes Benz. Inside were four teenage boys, dressed in shorts and ready for a spring afternoon on the beach. They are believed to be from the Brentwood and Bel Air area.
The Mercedes turned left onto Chautauqua and collided with the lead biker, who was thrown off and into a tree marked with a plaque. He is believed to have died instantly.
The driver has been identified by the Ruthless Ryderz club as their member David Babalyan of Reseda, also known as Xavier or Baby Face.
He was riding a 2016 Yamaha R1 (R10) motorcycle.
Three other Ryderz were thrown off their bikes.
One escaped with bruises but two others are still hospitalized with lower body injuries, including a shattered hip.
The Mercedes was crushed on the passenger side. One witness said that the car jumped the red light on Sunset, but that remains unconfirmed.
Another witness said that the young driver stumbled out of the car and sat down on the ground, looking stunned and shocked and mumbling, “What happened?”
All four boys were released to their families after receiving medical treatment at the scene, said a Fire Department spokesman.
Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the collision, including witness reports that the 16-year-old driver did not, as his learner permit required, have an adult supervisor in the car. And whether any of the vehicles jumped a red light.
“Bandit,” founder of the local chapter of Ruthless Ryderz, said that his friends were distraught.
“It’s too much,” he told the Palisadian-Post, saying he had been friends with Baby Face since grade school. The 36-year-old victim leaves behind a son, he added.
Bandit, talking at his mechanic’s business in Van Nuys on Monday, said, “I have lost nine friends [in the] last year. I cannot do another funeral. I don’t know how I am going to get through this one.”
The club founder had a copy of the Post on his garage wall; It was a May 2015 investigation into the club’s Wednesday night mass rallies along Sunset whose collective noise and speed has worried and infuriated Palisadians for nearly a decade.
In 2015, club leaders said around half a dozen members were dying each year in traffic accidents. Despite their “outlaw” reputation, or maybe because of their “macho” manners, statistics suggest they are the most vulnerable road users. Two other bikers were killed in crashes in LA in the last week.
But they still appeared unwilling to slow down through urban areas.
At the last Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting, on Thursday, March 30, LAPD Senior Lead Officer Michael Moore said the Wednesday night rides were an infuriating yet tricky problem.
“They slow down when police are around, and they are not technically breaking any more laws than other drivers do. But when they do, we deal with them.
“Sometimes bikes can be confiscated, but that has to be for a very serious offence [such as lack of documentation].”
The PPCC has invited Captain Valerie Thompson, of LAPD’s West Traffic Division, to speak about the investigation at its next meeting on Thursday, April 13. In the past, PPCC President Maryam Zar said, when police have cracked down on speeding vehicles targeted to focus on bikers, it encounters more residents breaking speed and traffic law than the bikers.
“There are no easy answers,” she warned.
Residents are filing their suggestions for intersection improvements through the city’s 311 app. In the past, the LA Department of Transportation has rejected community suggestions for a left-hand turn signal at the westbound Sunset light—engineers suggest this is because there has not been a fatality at the intersection in the past five years, although there have been many other accidents.
On Tuesday, April 4, Lou Kamer, PPCC representative at-large and road safety campaigner, formally petitioned LADOT to conduct a survey of the intersection. Kamer is seeking improvements to sightlines, including severe pruning of median vegetation that obscures sightlines around the intersection, a task that has been undertaken by residents in the past, and a left-hand filter light for Sunset traffic seeking to turn safely onto Chautauqua.
He is hoping for support from Mike Bonin, city councilmember for Pacific Palisades, the PPCC and the community.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.