LOS FELIZ, LOS ANGELES (KABC) — A Los Feliz couple is being billed more than $6,000 by Caltrans for an incident they claim had nothing to do with them.
Mike and Keren Weiss say it’s been more than two years and they’re stuck in red tape with no one to listen to them.
“We have nothing to do with this bill or this incident, and yet it keeps coming back to us,” Karen said.
It all started on Saturday, December 18, 2021.
The Weisses, along with their two young children, decided to drive up Highway 2 to Mountain High Ski Area to play in the snow after a winter storm hit the area days before their trip.
“We mapped it on Google and it said we were an hour and a half away,” said Mike, who said the weather that day was sunny and clear. “It was a beautiful day, no snow on the site. [It was an] One way trip.”
But a few miles past Mount Islip, they encountered deep snow on the road and their Jeep got stuck, leaving them stranded in the middle of the road.
“It didn’t look that thick, but as we started driving through it, the car slowed down until it stopped moving,” Mike remembers.
Other drivers passing them on Highway 2 offered to help but were unable to get the Jeep moving. But a driver who passed them and then returned warned them that even if they managed to free their jeep, they should not continue because the gate in front of them was closed.
Little did Mike and Keren know that they were actually on a road that was closed to the public days before December 18th. They had driven through a gate that Caltrans had closed, but for some reason it was wide open.
Because there was virtually no cell service in this part of the San Gabriel Mountains, they were never able to contact anyone to send roadside assistance, Keren said.
As the day progressed, they came to terms with the fact that they probably couldn’t free their vehicle and decided to hitch a ride down the mountain with some good Samaritans before the sun went down.
“We just didn’t want to take our chances,” said Keren, who said a few hours later her family was back home in Los Feliz.
The next day, Sunday, Mike started making phone calls trying to figure out how to get his Jeep that they had left behind in the mountains.
He says he initially called the California Highway Patrol.
“I talked to them for five or 10 minutes and told them our car was stuck on Highway 2 and asked them, ‘How can we get our car back?’ They gave us Caltranss [contact]] Information but they said we had to call them on Monday because we couldn’t reach them [until after the] Weekend.”
With their Jeep stuck on the mountain, Mike and Keren had to wait another day until Monday to contact Caltrans. But later that evening, long after they had gone to bed, there was a loud knock on their front door.
“It’s the LAPD outside,” Mike said. “They tell us that they are conducting a welfare check, [saying] We found an abandoned vehicle in the mountains and are supposed to check if you’re okay.
“We kind of laughed because we told them we already contacted the police [them] that the car is up in the mountains and we are fine.
The next morning, Mike was finally able to get in touch with someone at Caltrans. He said the person on the other end of the line told him they would have to hire their own towing company to pick up their Jeep, but they would help them by opening the locked gate.
“They wanted to make it very clear that they were just opening a gate. I’m like, ‘That’s fine,'” Mike said.
The following day, on Tuesday, Mike said the tow truck company the couple had hired through their Jeep dealer contacted a Caltrans representative who unlocked the gate for them so the tow truck driver could retrieve the stuck vehicle.
The tow truck driver returned a few hours later in the couple’s Jeep, with the tow truck company’s costs covered by insurance – and that was that.
At least that’s what they thought.
A month later, they received a bill from Caltrans for $6,034.06 in labor and equipment costs.
According to the information on the invoice, the cost was damages to Caltrans incurred on Sunday, December 19, 2021, for “snow removal – open gate due to hanging 911 call in area – assisted law enforcement – Jeep Stuck. “
Keren said not only were they never in the mountains on Sunday, they never called 911.
“This is a bill for a day when we weren’t there,” she said. “For an incident in which we were not involved and provided help and work Nothing have to do with us.
Eyewitness News received the 911 call that occurred on the evening of December 19, 2021 at approximately 5:57 p.m. However, due to the poor cell phone signal, very little could be understood.
A woman is heard saying, “We’re in the mountains,” but the operator is never told where the call was made from; It is also not possible for the operator to obtain information about the identity of the caller.
After about a minute the call is disconnected.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed to Eyewitness News that it was one of their deputies from the San Dimas station who responded to the call.
They went to the approximate location where cell phone coordinates showed the caller was calling. There was a campground in the area just a few miles from where the Weiss family Jeep got stuck.
The sheriff’s department said they were never able to find the person who made the 911 call, but as they made their way to the location indicated by cellphone coordinates, they discovered three stuck vehicles, including the Jeep the Weiss family.
A document related to the 911 call obtained by Eyewitness News even suggested as much the deputy got stuck in the snow that night and needed help from Caltrans.
Mike said he and Keren have repeatedly made their case to Caltrans, saying they never called 911 and were not responsible for the situation on Dec. 19, 2021, identified in the comprehensive bill.
They acknowledged that they were on a closed road, but because the gate they drove through near Mount Islip was wide open, they did not know at the time that they were entering a section of the highway that had been blocked by Caltrans.
“Who is responsible for making sure people stay off dangerous roads,” Keren asked. “Why isn’t it known? Google Maps [did not indicate] It. Why didn’t they close the gate? I understand they closed one gate but left the other open.”
Eyewitness New reached out to Caltrans with several questions about the situation.
Her answer was short.
“Safety is Caltrans’ top priority. This includes closing roads to the public each year due to winter safety requirements. We are investigating this situation.”