Authorities bummed about grade-’bomber’

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat September 19, 2012 02:08 pm

A series of wild stunts on one of Tuolumne County’s steepest roads has gained notoriety from the public, county road officials and California Highway Patrol in recent weeks.

Last month, a video appeared on the Internet depicting a man zipping down Old Priest Grade Road on a skateboard, at times narrowly avoiding oncoming cars on one side and a precipitous cliff on the other.


The video has since been viewed more than 15,000 times and caught national media attention. Now it appears that it wasn’t just an isolated incident.

Duke York, deputy director of the county’s Community Resources agency, said a crew of risk takers on Monday illegally closed Old Priest Grade Road sometime between 2:30 and 3 p.m. while riding downhill on what’s believed to be a streetluge board.

“Everybody kind of chuckles about it, but in terms of liability, it’s just absolutely huge and they are violating the law,” York said.

A resident on Moccasin Switchback Road encountered the daredevils after their run and reported it to the county, York said. The resident described the men to York as being in their 30s or 40s and driving a black Ford pickup. York said he also obtained a partial license plate number and has since turned it over to the CHP.

The witness also said the men claimed the county roads department had given them permission to temporarily shut down the steep road for filming, but York assures the department did not. He said a legitimate film crew would need to procure the proper permits, which also involves securing insurance and releasing the county from liability.

York described the board being ridden as having three wheels, which is consistent with streetluge boards.

Before Monday’s incident, York was not aware of the previous video, but now believes the latest stunt may have been the work of “copycats.”

“Someone posts a video on the Internet of them skateboarding down Old Priest Grade and now someone else thinks they can do it better, but someone is going to get killed and that’s not acceptable,” he said.

Sonora-area CHP Commander Lt. Scott Clamp said his agency is looking into the reports but at this time does not have any leads on suspects.

“We have spoken to the officer who patrols the area and told him to be vigilant looking for suspects,” he said. “We’ve also been talking with community members in the area to see if they heard anything or know anybody that might have been involved.”

Clamp said the skateboarder in the online video appeared to commit several right-of-way traffic infractions, which are enforceable by a fine but not jail time.

York noted that illegally closing the roadway violates a Tuolumne County ordinance, but he and the CHP are still looking into possible charges.

Regardless, Clamp said local CHP officers are on the lookout for the suspects in both incidents and any others who wish to tempt fate.

“Obviously, our primary concern is for the safety of not only the boarders but the drivers of the vehicles,” he said.

Townships and municipalities across the state have been struggling to find ways of dealing with a growing craze known as “bombing,” which involves skateboarders making risky downhill runs similar to those seen on Old Priest Grade Road.

The Los Angeles City Council recently scrapped an ordinance that would have banned the practice in favor of setting restrictions requiring skaters remain upright rather than crouched, maintain safe speeds and obey all other traffic laws, the Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 8.