News


Car hits, flips ambulance on El Camino in Palo Alto

Five people sent to hospital after crash at El Camino and Page Mill Road

Five people were taken to the hospital after a Toyota sedan collided with an ambulance at Oregon Expressway and El Camino Real at about 10 p.m. Tuesday night (Oct. 26), according to Suzan Minshall, public information officer for the Palo Alto Fire Department.

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The ambulance was driving under Code 3 (lights and siren on) northbound on El Camino when it was hit by the Toyota heading westbound on Page Mill Road/Oregon Expressway, Minshall and witnesses said. There were three ambulance personnel and one patient in the ambulance, and one person in the Toyota, she said. (See press release)

All five were transported to Stanford Hospital with varying injuries, but none of the injuries appeared to be life threatening. She did not know the condition of the patient or the genders of those involved.

Josh Byington, a Los Altos High School student, said he was driving behind the ambulance after studying at a friend's house in Palo Alto when he witnessed the collision. He said the Toyota had a green light but apparently failed to notice the lights and siren and hit the rear wheel well of the ambulance, sending both vehicles into a 90-degree spin.

The ambulance flipped onto its right side as the spin began to slow, Byington said.

The front end of the Toyota was completely crushed flat about halfway to the windshield. Light traffic was being detoured in the area.

Minshall said officials will be investigating the crash.

-- Palo Alto Online staff

Comments

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Posted by Sorry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2010 at 8:46 am

I felt so sorry to see the big mess. I felt extremely sorry for the ambulance personnel. Even though it was not their fault, the driver will get fired because their insurance will go up. Many of the ambulance workers are not cover by medical insurance, get little benefits and are always to keep away from getting into accidents. Unbelievable that these people who exposed their lives to save others in such emergencies are treated like that. I know because one of my relatives is a paramedic and drives the ambulance too.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 9:55 am

Hopefully nobody was badly injured, how anyone can not see an ambulance at night with code 3 lights flashing and siren sounding is beyond me. I hope the authorities pull the cell phone records for the driver of the Toyota.
Somewhere along the line people have come to the conclusion they dont need to pull to the right and stop when they see a emergency vehicle traveling code 3. You see people ignoring emergency vehicles all the time or stopping in the middle of the road or pulling to the left even.
The police should follow emergency vehicles around on calls and write tickets for non compliant drivers!
Several people could have died in the accident last night! That intersection is huge and it was at night, how did the Toyota not see or hear the ambulance?


Like this comment
Posted by tracey Chen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2010 at 10:29 am

I have noticed many, many drivers simply oblivious to ambulances with sirens and lights in just the last few months all over Palo Alto. It's as if two factors are at work: 1) they don't even know you're supposed to clear the way for the ambulance, and/or 2) they are simply oblivious to the environment and are driving on some kind of internal unsafe autopilot (unsafe because their autopilot doesn't take into account the environment or the need to drive defensively). When I'm pulling over for an ambulance, cars behind me just fly by, even swerving closer to the ambulance's path to get around my slowing car (with my turn signals on) faster. I've seen them go straight through intersections right in front of ambulances, barely missing them. I was even a passenger in a car with someone who was waiting on a side street to turn left on to Alma, who began to pull out to make it on to Alma right in front of an ambulance coming from the right--I had to scream at them to stop. Each time, I'm stunned at how oblivious drivers are. How do they not get into their brains the utmost importance of constantly scanning the environment when accelerating tons of steel into it?


Like this comment
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2010 at 10:39 am

Evidently the PA Weekly staff is unable to look at a map. Oregon does not cross El Camino, nor "T" into it. The street name changes at Alma, so all of this occurred at El Camino and Page Mill. The article and various headlines I've seen (on e-mails from PA Weekly) seem to use the street names interchangeably, or run together. It's confusing for those of us who know our geography.


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Posted by Charlie
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:15 am

Muttiallen,
I think most PA residents think of the intersection as Oregon Expressway on one side of El Camino and Page Mill on the other. (Whether the area from the underpass to El Camino is officially named Oregon or Page Mill seems beside the point, and I have lived here for over 50 years). Therefore, since the Toyota was heading west from Oregon as it entered the intersection, the PA Weekly description gives readers the correct impression.


Like this comment
Posted by Denese
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:18 am

This was bound to happen. People do not stop for ambulances like they should unless they see the police. I hope this person is arrested. There is no way as a driver and paying attention to the road that you can miss the sirens of an ambulance.

I hope all is well.


Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:19 am

"Oregon does not cross El Camino, nor "T" into it. The street name changes at Alma, so all of this occurred at El Camino and Page Mill." Actually, muttiallen, I believe that the name change occurs at Birch Street, where Page Mill Road continues straight in a north-west direction while Oregon Expressway merges with Page Mill and turns north.
However, this does seem awfully picky to someone who's lived in Midtown nearly 50 years. BTW, whatever the correct answer is, someone should tell Google Maps, which indicates that Page Mill crosses El Camino and becomes Oregon Expwy, then changes back to Page Mill Road, then back to Oregon Expwy after it goes under Alma!


Like this comment
Posted by Driver
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:23 am

Someone driving using a blue tooth is just as distracted as if they were using a hand held phone. Perhaps this had something to do with it. Using a phone even legally is a distraction particularly in an emergency situation.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:23 am

This accident most likely could have been avoided and prevented if Palo Alto had traffic signals like most every other City on the peninsula and California.
Most other Cities have a device in interesctions that picks up a signal from emergency vehicles responding code 3.
This device turns the light green in the direction the emergency vehicle is responding, thus clearing the blocking traffic at a red light and turning the light red for the cross traffic.
Most Cities have had that type of device since the 1970's, preventing accidents like this and saving lives. Lucky nobody was killed.
How Palo Alto continues to spend money on things that in my opinion are less important is beyond me. The driver of the Toyota will most likely have a lawyer from their insurance company raise the same question about the signal lights at this major intersection.
The City of Palo Alto will probably be named in a lawsuit for not taking a common and widespread practice to prevent deadly intersection accidents involving emergency vehicles.
The Toyota driver seems to be at fault for sure but in my opinion the CPA is partly at fault for not installing a simple device that is in widespread use in almost every other City I can think off.
People were injured and could have been killed, it possibly could have been prevented. If the device was installed at the signal the a Toyota would not have had the green light and most likely would have stopped when the signal went from green to yellow to red.


Like this comment
Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:35 am

Aren't all lights on El Camino, hwy 82, owned by CalTrans, not Palo Alto?


Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:42 am

YIMBY is a registered user.

@Jake who wrote: The City of Palo Alto will probably be named in a lawsuit for not taking a common and widespread practice to prevent deadly intersection accidents involving emergency vehicles.

The Toyota driver seems to be at fault for sure but in my opinion the CPA is partly at fault for not installing a simple device that is in widespread use in almost every other City I can think off.

WOW - You really know your stuff! (must be an attorney!)
I think the City needs to explain why it lacks the signal pre-emption.
However, ECR is a STATE road, and Page Mill/Oregon are County roads - so I think you mislaid the responsibility.
In fact, this intersection is manage by VTA for congestion - it's on their map of intersections - beyond that my memory fails.

I hope the Weekly investigates.


Like this comment
Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:49 am

@ Driver: Where does it say anything about anyone being on a phone? Why make that assumption? Could just as easily have been not paying attention for a multitude of other reasons.

@ muttiallen: don't the street signs in that intersection show Oregon on the east side of the intersection and Page Mill on the west side? I highly doubt anyone was confused about where the accident was given the paper's description of the location. There are a multitude of sources that state that the name changes at El Camino. This is a widely accepted location despite what might be on the official state transportation maps.


Like this comment
Posted by Juan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:56 am

No one is responsible for what they do anymore. It is always someone else's fault, and tax-paying citizens seem to end up footing the bill. Why are we told nothing about the driver at fault? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by too bad
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Well, I'm waiting to hear the rerport. It seems impossible that someone would not see or hear the ambulance. I like the idea about police following an ambulance and citing folks who don't pull over. If I pull over right away, experience shows me I risk getting hit trying to pull over and then again trying to pull back into the road after the ambulance has passed. Instead I have learned to slow down, guage what the other drivers are doing and pull over if need be. Seriously, if I pull over others just want to get past me... ditto for starting up... everyone's trying to beat out everyone else. It's rare to find someone who actually does the right thing.
Sad but true. My priority is to slow down and stay safe.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I understand that Santa Clara County owns that intersection - not Palo Alto or Caltrans.. And yes, Caltrans owns El Camino which is a state highway.


Like this comment
Posted by WOW
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

If it's true about the light changing devices, shame on Palo Alto for not making this a top priority.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:32 pm

For those of you that are saying its the State or the County that is responsible for the lack of emergency vehicle pre empt devices in PA, can somebody please explain to me why almost every other City I can think of along the length of El Camino Real has them installed?
I find it hard to believe PA was singled out for some reason it seems by not having them.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm

El Camino Real is one example, are also don't see the traffic devices on Oregon Exp, Alma, San Antonio Rd, Embarcadero, Middlefield Rd, Charleston, Arastradero, University Ave, Foothill Exp, etc etc.


Like this comment
Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Perhaps the FD never requested or budgeted for them.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 1:07 pm

The FD? what about the PD "requesting them"? Or taking it out of their budget? Who's responsible for the signals and roadway safety design now? This was also a private ambulance company vehicle, not a PAFD ambulance.


Like this comment
Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 3:06 pm

For some reason you want to blame someone in the CPA for this, so I gave you a possibility. Hit too close to home? ;-)


Like this comment
Posted by Member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 8:42 pm

It's a shame to see people jumping to conclusions and making assumptions. I personally know the Toyota driver and visited her today at the hospital. ZShe never had a ticket in her almost thirty years of driving. The ambulance was speeding through the intersection like I've seen happening numerous times. I couldn't get all the details since the toyota driver suffered broken ribs and internal bleeding. It was late at night and she was driving home from work. She doesn't smoke or drink. I wish all the people injured in this tragedy a speedy recovery. We can't point the finger without knowing the facts. I remember what happened to the poor lady that died from injuries sustained in her ambulance crash in Dec 2008 after the ambulance transporting her hit a tree and spun out of control.


Like this comment
Posted by Paramedic
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I worked in Santa Clara county for a private Ambulance Paramedic service for over 3 years before moving out of the bay. As the law reads, the Emergency service vehicle is always at default "fault", unless proven otherwise. Its the risk we take, and its the responsibility we take on as part of our job. Our job includes risks many others would never have to deal with in both their work lives and private lives. I understand accidents are going to happen, but having driven that same intersection plenty of times code 3, I find it hard to believe she could not stop unless she was speeding or distracted. That particular intersection is rather large (pagemill/El Camino) As an emergency service vehicle we have to stop before entering and assuming they did so, the claim about speeding is garbage, those trucks are horrible at picking up speed. One of the reasons I picked up and left the bay is for this exact reason, the work environment is horrible, from pay vs cost of living, the general public perception of EMS/FIRE, and above all North County (Santa Clara) drivers. That unit looks like one of the CCT or childrens hospital BLS/CCT units based out of stanford/palo alto, if so I know who might have been working and those guys are well experienced, and very professional. What always surprises me is how people can't see a moving billboard with a ear deafening siren and a discoball on top, there is absolutely no excuse.


Like this comment
Posted by Jan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:33 pm

We need Bigger Fines, and no Holding the bar re: reckless driving!! Cars kill and maim many people that just happened to be in the wrong spot. You see it every day, cars dashing around, changing lanes frequently, and running red lights willy nilly--just to get maybe minute earlier to their destination in reality. And the police need to ticket more folks (but likely need more police to do it, not sure)Cars kill and maim. You might think you are a good driver, but if you get in a perspective that you are "late" or "mad" or distracted, etc. you drive badly and can cause major INJURY to people. Somehow we need more of the police personnel out there looking for these risks before crashes occur. We DO have speed limits. Please ENFORCE them, anyway you can legally please, and "FAST"!


Like this comment
Posted by Commuter
a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2010 at 10:18 am

Jake wrote,"Most other Cities have a device in intersections that picks up a signal from emergency vehicles responding code 3.

This device turns the light green in the direction the emergency vehicle is responding, thus clearing the blocking traffic at a red light and turning the light red for the cross traffic."

The city I live in now has these devices. However, emergency vehicles can activate them even without code 3. It is really unnerving to be driving toward a green light, especially one where you are used to the length of the green, and have it suddenly turn red, see a police car roll through the intersection and then have it revert to green.

It's unfortunate that giving a valuable power to emergency personnel results in a few abusing that power in dangerous and unjustifiable ways. Perhaps that is the reason some places are reluctant to install the devices.


Like this comment
Posted by Paramedic
a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2010 at 10:53 am

LEO and EMS/FIRE are two different entities, police officers not only have code 3, but also "stealth" or blackout responses in some agencies, if your rolling up onto a possible bank robbery you don't want to let them know your coming. Also some cities/counties/etc have noise control at a certain hour. If I'm driving through Palo Alto code 3 at 3am on a Monday I won't run my siren unless I see a car, that is public policy because people complain about the noise. The general public is very misinformed when it comes to public services and emergency vehicles and while its not their fault or your fault "commuter" I don't have the answers when it comes to how we can resolve this. Perhaps the DMV can put more emphasis on emergency vehicles on the drivers license test? Separate test? Then again the general public will cry foul ball.


Like this comment
Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 28, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I'm a gunn high school student who gets driven to school every day.

I see other adults driving down charleston and arastradero who are eating, using their phones, listening to music with earbuds, and driving at the same time

and people wonder how these things happen.

fun fact: all the listed things I said are illegal


Like this comment
Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 29, 2010 at 12:02 pm

@ student: Actually, eating while driving is not illegal. It is definitely dangerous. You could be cited if the police deem that you are being negligent in your driving due to your eating. Yeah, splitting hairs, but it is legal to eat and drive.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2010 at 11:14 am

"commuter"

"have it suddenly turn red"?

The signals do not suddenly turn red, they still go from green to yellow then to red.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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