Taming Blood Alley: A Tragic Hollywood Death, and a Film to Make it Safer

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Aug 22, 2013

Emily Rose Shane, the 13-year-old daughter of movie producer Michel Shane (Catch Me If You Can, I. Robot) spent the night of April 2, 2010 at a friend’s house in Malibu, California, then, the next morning, started on the walk home along the busy Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
 Emily Rose Shane and her mother, Ellen Shane. (Image courtesy of Michel Shane)PCH is a narrow road, two lanes in each direction, whose winding route through the Malibu foothills along the Pacific coast doesn’t stop traffic from regularly hitting speeds of 65 to 70 mph. In 2011, a Ferrari crashed there after hitting speeds of over 90 mph on the Malibu section—which has a posted limit of 45 mph. Despite the fact there is no sidewalk—only a three-foot gap between the white line and the steeply rising hill—people regularly use that thin corridor as a walkway, bikeway and parking lot. 

PCH has been called “Blood Alley,” “America’s only public NASCAR track”, and “the most dangerous road in the U.S.” According to Citydata.com, it averaged from one to eight traffic fatalities from 1991 to 2011. State Road 1 was built in stages, beginning in the 1930s, and was never intended to serve as many cars as it does now. On Memorial Day weekend, 400,000 people drove through it. “There are only 13,000 people in Malibu, but its accident rate is that of a much bigger city,” Michel Shane said.

Congestion on PCH through Malibu. (Image courtesy of Michel Shane)Emily Shane never made it home. According to her father, “I didn’t even get to kiss her goodbye. The last thing she said to me was, ‘See you tomorrow,’ when she headed out for the sleepover.” Emily called her mother, Ellen Shane, for a ride home, then started walking. At the same time, 26-year old Sina Khankhanian, who had recently lost both his girlfriend and his job, also hit PCH, driving erratically at speeds of up to 70 mph.

According to Michel Shane, he left behind a suicide note. Six calls to 911 about Khankhanian’s dangerous driving that day went unheeded. He slammed into a light pole at the intersection of Heathercliff Drive (now renamed Emily Shane Way).

Malibu is gorgeous, but the main highway through it is a frequent killer. (Image courtesy of Michel Shane)At his trial, the defense contended that Khankanian hadn’t intended to kill anyone other than himself, but Michel Shane calls it a clear case of murder. “He had left everything behind, including a suicide note,” he said. “On Topanga Canyon, there are many places you can easily kill yourself, but he was angry at the world, angry at everything.” In 2012, Khankanian was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life.

Emily Rose Shane has been gone for three years, and her family has turned their grief into action. Using a Kickstarter campaign, Michel Shane raised $36,000 in just 29 days to film a documentary about the highway’s dangers tentatively entitled PCH: Probably Cause Harm. They also started a foundation in their daughter’s name to help kids struggling in school, as Emily did.

 “Everybody’s donating their services to make the film,” said Shane, who pointed out that there have been 10 major accidents on PCH in just the last two weeks. “We plan to interview the police officers, EMTs and others who deal with the road every day to find answers to make the road safer, and we will distribute the film theatrically and make it available to schools and organizations at no cost. “We hope that the lessons our documentary offers will be applicable to other places and other dangerous roads.”

Emily Rose Shane was on her way home from a sleepover. (Image courtesy of Michel Shane)The Kickstarter campaign closed successfully this week, and Shane said it should take six months to make the film, to be directed by a young film graduate named Paola Cutri. “We’re coming up on the busiest driving weekend of the year,” Shane said. “This is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and also one of the most dangerous.” Here's more about the PCH film on video:

Car Talk asks: What would you do to reduce the hazards posed by roads like PCH? What's government's responsibility here? How would you respond, if you were in Michael Shane's situation?

Get the Car Talk Newsletter