Lockhart said the department also increased disciplinary penalties for violating the rules and said several lifeguards involved in accidents have been suspended. “So people are paying closer attention to driving on the beaches,” Lockhart said. “We have huge concerns about this. People are going to the beaches to enjoy themselves, and they are depending on the lifeguards to protect them. It’s very important for the Lifeguard Division to maintain a very high level of safety.” Last year, about 51million people visited county beaches, making them the No.1 attraction in Southern California. Lifeguards performed more than 9,000 rescues along the county’s 72miles of coastline last year. One person drowned in the period, down from an annual average of three to four drownings. And no shark attacks have been reported in at least the past five years. “No one has a safety record like Los Angeles County for the miles of beaches we guard,” Topar said. The incident with Pace occurred June28,2005, as Pace was sunbathing alone near Tower25, Principal Deputy County Counsel Syna N. Dennis wrote in board documents. A lifeguard driving north stopped behind the tower to drop off a lost child, Dennis wrote. After a camp counselor escorted the child from the vehicle, the lifeguard began to turn the truck left around the front of the tower, Dennis wrote. “The lifeguard testified that she did not see Mr. Pace lying on the sand before she began her left turn,” Dennis wrote. “While proceeding slowly, the right side of the lifeguard truck ran over Mr. Pace’s left shoulder, across his chest and abdomen and toward his right hip. “The lifeguard drove 20 to 30feet before she felt a bump and stopped the vehicle.” Pace sued, and Dennis recommended the county settle for $600,000, arguing the county could face liability over an apparent violation of Fire Department policy that requires lifeguards to visually check around their vehicles before driving. Another potential liability involved a Fire Department policy that requires lifeguards to place a circle of orange cones around lifeguard towers. The policy requires lifeguards to park and turn around inside the circles, Boyle said. “And there was testimony to the effect that there were not enough orange cones at each lifeguard stand to make the full circle,” Boyle said. “There was sort of a half-circle formed around the lifeguard tower that Jesse Pace was closest to.” In 2005, the Los Angeles County Claims Board approved a $100,000 settlement for Claudia Prada, who was struck in 2003 by a lifeguard truck while she sunbathed in Hermosa Beach near a lifeguard tower. In June in Ventura County, an Oxnard police officer drove over and killed sunbather Cindy Conolly, 49, as she lay on Mandalay Beach. A $10 million lawsuit has been filed against the city on behalf of Conolly’s children. David Sommers, spokesman for county Supervisor Don Knabe, said incidents in which lifeguards drive over people are rare. “When you think about the millions of people who come to the county beaches every year, the statistical chance of something like this happening is slim,” Sommers said. [email protected] (213) 974-8985 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “He is moving on, is back in school and plans on becoming a physician,” Boyle said. “He hopes this doesn’t happen to anybody else. He harbors no ill will against the specific lifeguard that was driving the truck that hit him, but he does wish the lifeguard service would train their lifeguards better.” Since the accident, county Fire Department Lifeguard Division Assistant Chief Philip Topar said rules no longer allow lifeguards to drive their yellow Nissan Frontier pickups on beaches between 10a.m. and 6p.m., except in emergencies. “And we’ve cut back on our driving on the beaches by about 70percent,” Topar said. “We have added not only rear bumper beepers, but when the pickups go forward they have forward car alarms. “And we also have sensors installed all around the bumpers, both front and back. If we can’t see something, any rise in the sand, even a person lying down, it will spot that so the person driving will know. It’s like a radar.” Lifeguards also received more training for driving on beaches; they are required to always keep the trucks’ lights on and conduct “circle of safety” inspections around the trucks to ensure no one is there before driving off, Fire Department Chief Deputy Gary Lockhart said. Sharks may not be the only danger for Los Angeles County beachgoers – records show lifeguards in the past five years have driven over at least five sunbathers. While officials say such cases are rare and lifeguard training and safety procedures have been upgraded since the last accident two years ago, the incidents have cost the county thousands of dollars in settlements. And later this month, the county Claims Board will decide whether to recommend the largest settlement to date – $600,000 – for Jesse Pace, a summer intern at UCLA Medical Center in 2005 when a lifeguard ran him over at Santa Monica Beach. The 21-year-old pre-med student is now at Lee University in Tennessee, but he lost his spleen in the accident and now is concerned that his weakened immune system may cause problems in the future, Los Angeles attorney Kevin Boyle said.