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Safety of dune riding at Oceano Dunes called into question again following weekend death

Posted at 10:43 PM, May 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-28 13:11:55-04

Dune riding and its safety are being called into question again after a man died in a crash and two others suffered injuries over the weekend.

Two people died in April and a handful of injuries were reported in the last few weeks including a man who was airlifted for head trauma Saturday.

California State Parks says it was a sold out Memorial Day Weekend at the Oceano Dunes.

However, rangers are saying it’s not the number of visitors but rather high speeds that are putting people in danger.

“You think families, they come here to have a great time and they go out for a ride and one of them doesn’t come back,” said Danny Hensley, Freedom Ropes owner.

Hensley help’s tow cars when they get stuck in the sand.

He says he’s seen the aftermath of crashes on the dunes including Sunday’s deadly crash.

Kristopher Mancebo, 24, from Tulare County was killed when his sand buggy, which was not a rental, according to State Parks, hit a rut between 40 and 50 mph and flipped three times, ultimately ejecting him.

State Parks says speed is usually a dangerous and sometimes deadly factor.

“99% of the time I would say it’s due to the increased speed and inability to operate the vehicle safely,” said Sergeant Stephanie Adams, supervising CA State Parks ranger.

Officials say the speed limit on the beach and campground is 15 mph, however, there is no set speed limit in the area where the crash occurred. State Parks says basic speed law applies there, “which is a ‘speed safe for conditions’.”

KSBY asked how many injuries or how many deaths it could take to prompt a closure of the dunes and Adams said she didn’t know.

However, it’s one of the many options they are considering along with the option to open up more areas.

“This recreational activity can be safe, it is safe if it’s done the right way,” said Adams.

Some people don’t want to see closures.

“Anytime you squeeze people into a smaller area, I mean the likelihood of accidents happening increases,” said Hensley.

Others say stricter speed enforcement would help.

“First post down there right after the river have an area down there to check-in and have the ranger educate them maybe,” said Tom Gore, Arroyo Grande resident.

Park rangers say they will be using social media more to drive home the message they’ve been saying all along.

“People need to come prepared, know what their limitations are, know what their vehicles’ capabilities are, wear the proper safety equipment, respect the speed limit,” said Adams.

CA State Parks also makes stops for speeding and equipment violations.

With summer right around the corner, they hope everyone knows and follows the rules to prevent any more accidents from happening.