Student Ahead of Curve on Highway Risk

Jessica Bourse

Don’t be fooled by the cookies, Malia Mailes isn’t your average Girl Scout.

The 16-year-old sophomore from La Cañada High School, who also attends an Italian class at the college, received a Girl Scout Gold Award for her work in a 46-page Power Point presentation on truck safety on Angeles Crest Highway.

“I began [the project] after the first accident [on the highway], which was in September,” said Mailes, “I had been watching TV on a Monday night and saw our city council meeting.”

Before switching the channel back to her favorite show, “One Tree Hill,” Mailes saw a familiar face on screen.

“I stopped because I saw Mr. [David] Spence – he’s one of our council members, and he was also my Sunday school teacher when I was little,” said Mailes, “and he said that the next time there was an accident like this in our community, there would be a serious loss of life.”

Mailes spent the next five months hammering through newspaper articles and Caltrans documents, when she found something that shocked her.

“I found out that after the September accident, Caltrans said that there wasn’t an issue, that they didn’t have to deal with it because trucks were not allowed on the route,” said Mailes. “I looked through all their documents and bought a trucker atlas, looked at GPS stuff – I looked everywhere. There was nothing saying that trucks were not allowed to go up there. Trucks are allowed there, completely.”

About one month after Mailes presented her project, a big rig lost control while traveling down Angeles Crest Highway, killing 58-year-old Angel Jorge Posca and his 12-year-old daughter Angelina.
Mailes, who lives two blocks away from the highway, was at home during the time of the accident and remembers the April 1 tragedy vividly.

“I was in my backyard with a couple of my friends,” said Mailes. “My dad started calling me inside. He said, ‘Malia! Malia! Come inside!’ So we ran inside, turned on the TV and we saw the crash. We had heard the helicopters above our house, and when we saw it [the accident], we sat down and my friends and I started crying.”

“One of my friends, who was visiting that night, was supposed to leave and drive right through there, at basically what would have been the exact moment of the accident,” said Mailes, “but I told her to wait because I wanted to show her something, and we started talking and five minutes later, it happened. She would have been going right through there.”

“Her initial reaction to the crash and the lives it took was that it was somehow partially her fault because she had not been effective enough,” said Mailes’ mother, Patti. “She cried. I think she now knows that her contributions were, in fact, valuable, but she has learned a hard lesson on how difficult it can be to motivate a bureaucracy such as Caltrans.”

Shortly after the big rig accident, word got out about Mailes’ project. A Los Angeles Times headline read, “Girl Scout warned about danger before La Cañada crash.” Internet forums asked, “Is a Girl Scout smarter than Caltrans?”

Before she knew it, Mailes had become an overnight sensation.

“It got really crazy for a while,” said Mailes, “I know I missed three classes – it was a block day and I had three classes – and I was out of half of each class, doing interviews and talking to people.”
Mailes’ parents have been nothing but supportive for their daughter.

“My parents have told me how proud of me they are,” said Mailes, as she smiled softly. “They’ve just been really awesome throughout all of this. Any time an interviewer calls, or anything they’ve asked me to do, my parents make sure it’s something I want to do, and they haven’t been pushing me at all.”

“People have been really great through it. There hasn’t been too much change [in her life], it’s just trying to go about in life and doing what I can to stop this from happening again,” Mailes said.

Caltrans issued a 90-day ban on all big rigs trucks from traveling down the highway, but that isn’t enough to stop Mailes.

“We’re trying to get a permanent ban.”

Mailes met with Rep. Anthony Portantino and La Cañada Flintridge mayor, Laura Olhasso, on Monday to testify in Sacramento in support of Assembly Bill 1361, which aims to permanently ban big rig trucks from traveling on Angeles Crest Highway.

“How this turns out will be a turning point for her. After she testifies, if the new law passes, she will learn that an individual can make a difference,” said Patti.

“If this bill doesn’t pass, I’d be upset,” said Mailes. “I’d probably start a whole new project and do it again.”

After Portantino introduced AB 1361 to the Transportation Committee, both Mailes and Olhasso spoke for three minutes.

Mailes, who said she wasn’t nervous, felt very happy about her experience in Sacramento.

“The bill passed unanimously,” said Mailes. “I’m glad it has gotten this far and I hope it goes all the way.”

And how is Mailes celebrating?

“I’m going to school. my AP tests are in a week.”