Resident honored for chasing down a drunk driver
Palo Alto police will recognize Michael Finley, others for extraordinary acts
When Michael Finley saw the flash go by and heard the crashing metal, he didn't think twice about what he was about to do.
Finley was giving a guitar lesson in his Olive Avenue home in Palo Alto Oct. 11, 2010, when a car driven by a drunk driver hurtled down the quiet street and slammed into a van parked across the street.
His student's mother was in the van. Finley saw the hit-and-run from his home's window and didn't waste a minute in reacting, he recalled this week. He ran barefoot for several blocks after the reckless driver and chased her down until she stopped.
"I found her about three or four blocks away near the intersection of El Camino Real and Oregon Expressway. The car was hobbling. I ripped open the door and started screaming at her like a mad woman," he said.
On Tuesday, May 17, Finley will receive a certificate of recognition from the Palo Alto Police Department for his heroism, which resulted in the driver's arrest. He and other citizens who have made a difference will receive the honors along with police officers receiving promotions during an afternoon ceremony.
Other residents to be honored include Stan Rockson, Jeanette Tucker and more. Sergeants Ken Kratt and Scott Savage and Agents Tony Becker and Kelly Burger will receive promotions, Lt. Sandra Brown said.
Allen is still affected by the injuries she received when she was thrown against the windshield during the crash, she said. But she hasn't forgotten Finley's willingness to track down and stop the driver from injuring more people, she said.
"Not many people would do that. It takes a really special person to take the initiative to do what's right. It put a lot of faith in mankind for me," she said.
Allen was inspired to ask police Chief Dennis Burns to honor Finley for his heroics after reading about a similar ceremony held by Menlo Park police, she said.
She didn't know the department was following through until she recently received a call from Brown, she said.
Finley has taught Allen's son for about four or five years, she said. On the afternoon of the accident, Allen had just unbuckled her seatbelt and was about to get out to pick up her son when the driver hit her car from behind at about 30 mph, she said.
Finley first checked on Allen, who, he said, was screaming but appeared mostly to be in shock.
"I was angry. Last year, someone ran over my dog," he said.
Chasing after the driver wasn't difficult; her car was badly damaged, he said. Finley put his body between the door and the vehicle. He could see the woman was impaired, he said.
"She was wasted-drunk — blacked out — driving at 4 p.m. with two dogs in the car. I could understand if she did that and stopped. That she drove away was outrageous," he said.
"I told her, 'Don't move.' I made a big stink," he said, which attracted onlookers who called police.
Allen said people who know Finley were not surprised by his actions.
"It meant a lot to me that he keeps following up with me every week. Otherwise, I would be going through a much harder time," said Allen, who still receives physical therapy for a neck injury.
The driver has pleaded no contest and sentencing is scheduled for June 2, Allen said.
Finley humbly dismisses his actions — and that he is deserving of any recognition.
"The whole thing is ridiculous. To me, it's nothing. Anybody else should've done the same thing. It's kind of embarrassing to me," he said.
Watch it online
A live broadcast of the Palo Alto Police Department's citizen-heroes ceremony will be streamed Tuesday, May 17, at 3 p.m. on Palo Alto Online.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org