Time to Drive the 405 Freeway

 

THE ISSUE:  According to the testimony in both trials, the Brown family left the Mezzaluna restaurant bound for their home in Orange County very close to 8:30 pm.  However, phone records say that Juditha, Nicole's mother, called the Mezzaluna restaurant at 9:37 from the family home in Dana Point inquiring about her eyeglasses.  It has been alleged that the phone records are bogus, because nobody could possibly drive that roughly seventy miles in such a short span.  We set out to see if it could be done on that hour of a Sunday night.  Figure 1 [OCMAP_02.JPG]ocmap_02.jpg (50996 bytes) illustrates the presumed trip, beginning on surface streets in Brentwood, proceeding to the 405 Freeway southbound, thence to merge with the I-5 Freeway, exiting to the Crown Valley Parkway, and following that to the gates of the exclusive community where the Browns live, just 1/8 of a mile farther on.

THE RE-CREATION:  At 8:31, with Rose in the passenger seat to manage documentation, we set out from in front of the old Mezzaluna building to re-create the trip that the Brown family made home on that fateful night after dinner.  We started the stopwatch as we pulled away from that building, and noted the time on the car clock: 8:31 pm; it was Sunday night, May 19, 2002; the odometer showed 3606.1 mi.  We proceeded east on San Vicente, followed its curve and wound up stopped for a red signal at Wilshire Blvd.  We waited 1:24 minutes from (1:18 to 2:42 on the stopwatch) for the signal to change, but left the stopwatch running during the pause.  East on Wishire, and then we entered the ramp for the southbound 405 Freeway at 3:37.

The freeway was fairly full -- 50 to 100 feet between cars -- but moving fast, 65 to 70 mph.  It continued thus until we encountered the only congestion of the trip around the Marina Freeway where the speed fell to about 30 mph briefly.  From there for the remainder of the trip, it never fell below 65, and often was higher.

Just south of LAX there was an opportunity (since Rose was in the car with me) to use the Diamond Lane (high occupancy vehicle lane restricted to cars with two or more occupants).  I have never used the Diamond Lane, but it is purported to be faster, and it was available to the Browns on the night in question, so I thought I should use it for this test.  I soon discovered that when the freeway is flowing free (different that at "rush hour," when the regular lanes crawl at 20 or 30 mph) there was not much advantage.  In fact, sometimes I got behind a car in the Diamond Lane that was going 65 mph when the regular traffic was going 70 to 80 mph, and when that happened I got out, went around the slow car, and got back into the Diamond Lane.  Typically I would stay in the Diamond Lane for five miles or more at a stretch.  I would say that my typical speed south of LAX was close to 75 mph, and I was probably at about the 85th percentile of speed for the freeway as a whole.  That is, only 15% of the cars were going faster than me.  (The highest momentary peak speed I saw during the trip was 88 mph -- poor Rose.)

A TRIP WITHOUT A DESTINATION:  Unfortunately, we embarked on this trip as a spur of the moment activity, more interested to exploit the authenticity of a Sunday night than to completely research the matter in advance.  As a result, we set out with only a general idea of where the Browns lived, hoping to gather enough information that we could fill in the blanks later.

We proceeded to Crown Valley Parkway (after the 405 Freeway has become the I-5) and noted the stopwatch reading there and at major offramps until we left the freeway at Pacific Coast Highway, PCH.  (See Figure 2 [MAP_OC.JPG]map_oc.jpg (38856 bytes) for the detail of the southern end of this trip and our actual time and distance.)  The specific times after starting at the Mezzaluna are...

               Crown Valley Parkway                   54.31 minutes

               Avery Parkway                                55.24 min.

               Junipro Serra                                    56:34 min.

               Ortega Highway                                58:03 min.

               Camino Capistrano                           58:44 min.

               Pacific Coast Highway                    60:42 min.

               After travelling south for more than 60 miles we went northbound on PCH until we got to Crown Valley Parkway (odometer was 3680.5).  At that point we turned east to go back to I-5 along Crown Valley Parkway, which is lightly traveled at that hour, posted for 45 mph, and actually moves at a speed of 50 to 60 mph.  We reached the I-5 when the odometer showed 3687.4 miles.  So, we traversed 6.9 miles of Crown Valley Parkway from PCH to I-5 at an average speed of AT LEAST 50 mph, which means that the trip took 8.28 minutes AT MOST.  If we had taken the Crown Valley Parkway exit when we were southbound on the I-5, we would have arrived at PCH at an elapsed time of 62.59 minutes after leaving the Mezzaluna.  Our test included delays for traffic signals and congestion, as the Bowns' trip undoubtedly did also.

TIME TO SPARE:  Subsequent research showed that the Browns' actual address is 222 Monarch Bay Drive, 0.11 miles farther along the extension of Crown Valley Parkway from PCH (according to Mapquest, which shows the total trip to be 70.72 miles).  To travel that last 0.11 miles at 30 mph would require an additional 0.22 minutes, producing a total time from the Mezzaluna to the Browns' house of 62.81 minutes.  If the Browns left the Mezzaluna at 8:30, as is believed and testified that they did, they could have pulled into their driveway by 9:33.  There is no inconsistency then that Juditha Brown could have made a phone call from that house at 9:37 as the questioned telephone records show she did.   In fact, if the Browns left the Mezzaluna at 8:30 and Juditha brooded on the trip about her glasses as the testimony says she did, the most likely time that she would have called the restaurant is exactly the time that the phone records show she did -- 9:37.

OTHER TESTS:  In 1999 Marla claimed that she had driven the freeway portion of this trip at night, in a time that penciled out to an average speed of 90 mph; I doubted her claim.  (However, Marla timed the reverse path and followed a route from Dana Point of Crown Valley Parkway to Alilcia Parkway to the I-5 Freeway.)  The roadway is adequate to such a trip, and the traffic might even allow it, but the Highway Patrol would probably interfere.  In the same era I did an analysis in which I assumed a freeway speed of 70 mph and found that there was just barely enough time for Juditha to make the call.

In reply to my analysis, PuppetMaster said, "on a Sunday night at 8:30 if you drive 70 in the car pool lane, you'll be tailgated in no time flat.  The average for that stretch, say between the 605 in Seal Beach and Dana Point is between 75 to 80 mph.   I live in that area, and drive the freeway quite a bit and Sunday nights going south are a breeze."  My experience on this trip confirms PuppetMaster's claim: I went long stretches in the area he describes and the speedometer did not budge from 77 mph.

Even though this issue was discussed in 1999, and most people accepted the possibility that the trip could be made in less than 67 minutes, doubt still remains in other quarters (thought I have not seen it in AFOJS recently).  It was for the sake of trying to resolve that doubt that we made this trip.

I repeat now, with even greater confidence, what I said before on this subject: "There is no contradiction that I can see with the evidence."  The Browns could have left the Mezzaluna at 8:30 and yet Juditha could have made the phone call from Dana Point at 9:37.

               Dick Wagner • Van Nuys, CA   (5/24/02)   NG_748

               (A re-creation shows that the Browns’ trip home could be naturally done in 63 minutes.)

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