The object, a 1-foot-long, 20-pound hunk of molded material with two large bolts, ripped into the car sometime between Monday night, Oct. 8, or Tuesday morning, initially confounding Palo Alto police and the vehicle's owner.
Was it a bird? Was it a plane?
Resident Daniel Peters discovered the huge gash in the tailgate of his black SUV when he went to take his children to school on Tuesday morning. The heavy object was embedded amid the torn metal and could not be extracted, he said.
Peters said he last saw his intact vehicle in front of his home in the 4200 block of Newberry Court, on Monday at about 10 p.m. Newberry ends at Park Boulevard, which parallels the train tracks.
At first, he thought the car had been vandalized, but he had second thoughts when he saw the size of the object and the trajectory of the large slash. It seemed to have come from above.
"My sister said, 'No, a part of a plane fell on it,'" he said Tuesday afternoon.
Peters gazed toward the train tracks across the street, which are hidden by a row of houses. He marveled that an object of that size could be hurled with such force that it would fly over homes where people were sleeping, cross Park and slice a hole into his car on the side street.
"It must have exploded. It's hard to believe it came this far," he said.
Palo Alto police Sgt. Kara Apple said on Tuesday that traveling at high speed, a shattered object of such size could be flung quite far.
"We were all saying, 'Thank God no one was outside. Thank God a car wasn't driving down the street and was struck,'" she said.
Police did not immediately know what the object could be. But Peters' body-shop repairman had an idea. It looked like part of a train fan housing, and it was marked "UP 9999," Peters said. He said he did not yet know the extent and cost to repair the vehicle, but the body shop said the damage was extensive, Peters added.
Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt initially said on Tuesday that there were no reports of a Union Pacific incident in Palo Alto.
But Dunn on Wednesday said Caltrain would work with authorities to identify the object and would inspect its trains. On Thursday morning, she had an answer.
"Caltrain has inspected all of its equipment and none of our equipment is missing any parts. We have also inspected the part and identified it as the cover of cooling fan, which is located on the top of a locomotive. We have also identified the part as coming from a Union Pacific locomotive. We are in the processing of notifying Union Pacific," she stated in an email.
Palo Alto police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron on Thursday referred further comment to Union Pacific.
"I received word that the part has been identified as coming from a Union Pacific locomotive that had stopped in San Francisco, according to a colleague of mine with the San Mateo County Transit Police," he wrote in an email.
Hunt said that Union Pacific is continuing to investigate and officials are in touch with local authorities.
"UP locomotive 9999 was not in California on the evening in question," he said in an email on Thursday. "Since we are still in the process of investigating, I am unable to comment on what Caltrain is sharing with you."
But he said he should know more on Friday.
SEE MORE ONLINE
Additional photos of the damaged Suburban have been posted on Palo Alto Online.