They were stuck in the snow nearly two years ago, so why is a Los Feliz family still facing a $6,000 bill from Caltrans?
LOS FELIZ, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A Los Feliz couple is being charged 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 bureaucratic red tape with no one who will hear them out.
"We have nothing to do with this bill or this incident, and yet it keeps coming back to us," said Keren.
It all started back on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.
The Weisses, along with their two small children, decided to head up Highway 2 to Mountain High ski resort for snow play, following a recent winter storm that hit the area days prior to them making the trip.
"We Google-mapped it, and it said one and a half hours away," said Mike, who said the weather that day was sunny and clear. "It was a beautiful day out; no snow on the grounds. [It was an] easy drive."
However, a few miles past Mount Islip, they encountered deep snow on the road, and their Jeep was bogged down, leaving them stranded in the middle of the road.
"It didn't look that thick, but when we started driving through it, the car started slowing down and slowing down until it wouldn't move anymore," Mike recalled.
Other drivers who drove past them on Highway 2 offered to help, but they were unable to get the Jeep to move. But one driver who passed them and then started coming back warned them that even if they were able to free their Jeep, not to go any further because the gate was closed ahead.
Unbeknownst to Mike and Keren, they were actually on a road that had been closed to the public days prior to Dec. 18. They had driven through a gate that Caltrans had ordered closed, but for some reason, was wide open.
Because cell service was practically nonexistent in that part of the San Gabriel mountains, Keren said they were never able to make contact with anyone to send roadside assistance.
As the day wore on, resigned to the fact that they would likely be unable to free their vehicle, they decided to hitch a ride off 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, their family was back home in Los Feliz.
The next day, Sunday, Mike started making phone calls to try to figure out how to get their Jeep, which they had abandoned in the mountains.
He says he started by calling the California Highway Patrol.
"I had a conversation with them for five or 10 minutes and told them our car is stuck on Highway 2 and asked them 'How can we get our car back?' They gave us Caltrans's [contact]] information, but they said we'd have to call them on Monday because we won't get a hold of them [until after the] weekend."
With their Jeep stuck on the mountain, Mike and Keren were left to wait another day, until Monday to contact Caltrans. But later that night, long after they'd gone to bed, they get a loud knock on their front door.
"It's the LAPD outside," said Mike. "They tell us they're doing a welfare check, [saying] we found an abandoned vehicle in the mountains and we're told to see if you guys are OK.
"We kind of chuckled because we told them we'd already contacted the police, telling [them] that the car is up in the mountains and we're OK."
The next morning, Mike was finally able to make contact with someone from Caltrans. He said the person on the other end of the line told him that they would have to hire their own tow truck company to come and get their Jeep, but they would help them by opening the locked gate.
"They wanted to be very clear that all they were doing was opening up a gate. I'm like, 'That's fine,'" said Mike.
The following day, on Tuesday, Mike said the tow truck company the couple hired through their Jeep dealership made contact with a Caltrans representative who unlocked the gate for them to allow the tow truck driver to retrieve the stuck vehicle.
The tow truck driver returned a few hours later with the couple's Jeep, with the cost of the tow truck company covered by insurance - and that was that.
Or so they thought.
A month later, they received a bill from Caltrans for labor and equipment costs of $6,034.06.
According to what was printed on the bill, the costs were for damages to Caltrans that occurred on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, for "Snow Removal - Open Gate Due to a Hang Up 911 Call in the Area - Assisted Law Enforcement - Jeep Stuck."
Keren said not only were they never in the mountains on Sunday, but they never called 911.
"This is a bill for a day we were not there," she said. "For an incident we were not involved with, and some help and labor that had nothing to do with us."
Eyewitness News obtained the 911 call made around 5:57 p.m. the night of Dec. 19, 2021. However, because of bad cell signal, very little could be understood.
A woman can be heard saying, "We're in the mountains," but the operator is never able to get information about where the call was being made from; nor is the operator able to get information about the identity of the person making the call.
After about a minute, the call disconnects.
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 indicated the caller was calling from. It was a campground in the area, just a few miles from where the Weiss family's Jeep was stuck.
The sheriff's department said they were never able to find the person who made the 911 call, but as they were heading to the location indicated by cell phone coordinates, they discovered three stuck vehicles, including the Weiss family's Jeep.
A document obtained by Eyewitness News relating to the 911 call indicated that even the deputy got stuck in the snow that night, and needed Caltrans for assistance.
Mike said he and Keren pleaded their case repeatedly to Caltrans, saying that they never called 911, and were not responsible for the situation on Dec. 19, 2021 that was indicated in the massive bill.
They acknowledged that they were on a closed road, but because the gate they passed through near Mount Islip was wide open, they had no knowledge at the time that they were driving onto a portion of the highway that had been closed by Caltrans.
"Who is in charge of making sure people are off roads that are dangerous," questioned Keren. "Why is it not known? Google Maps [did not indicate] it. Why didn't they close the gate? I understand they closed one gate, but the other one stayed open."
Eyewitness New reached out to Caltrans with several questions about the situation.
Their response was brief.
"Safety is Caltrans' top priority. This includes closing roads to the public based on winter safety needs every year. We are looking into this situation."