News

Driver pinballs through downtown Palo Alto

Four cars hit, multiple pedestrians in peril as man with possible DUI and medical condition careens through town

A man with a history of diabetes -- and convictions for driving under the influence -- rammed into several cars and narrowly missed striking pedestrians and bicyclists in downtown Palo Alto Sunday (Dec. 5), prompting a flood of 911 calls to police.

Juan Manuel Quezada, 37, of East Palo Alto, was arrested and taken to Stanford Hospital, where he was admitted after complaining of chest pains, according to Palo Alto police Sgt. Wayne Benitez.

Quezada, who was still wearing a hospital wristband, said he suffers from diabetes and had recently been released from the hospital because of his condition and after having chest pains.

At around noon Sunday, Quezada allegedly drove his full-size Chevy Silverado into a parked car in the 400 block of Cowper Street. He didn't stop, but instead drove toward University Avenue, where he turned right and drove west, rear-ending a vehicle at a stoplight at the intersection of University and Florence Street, near the Joya restaurant, Benitez said.

Quezada then hit another occupied vehicle near Florence and University, and drove west, turning north onto Alma Street, where he rear-ended a parked vehicle at the intersection of Alma and Palo Alto Avenue. He nearly struck two pedestrians -- a husband and wife who witnessed the crash into the fourth car -- when he turned right onto Palo Alto Avenue. The couple had to run out of the way to avoid being hit, Benitez said.

Quezada then continued east on Palo Alto Avenue, nearly hitting two young children and their father, who were riding bicycles.

None of the people whose cars were struck were injured and all of the crashes occurred at low speeds, Benitez said. One of the victims whose car was rear-ended had a sleeping infant in the back seat, he said.

The bumper-car escapade prompted dozens of calls to police, with several coming in at the same time from people involved in the collisions, people who witnessed the original crashes from their seats at Joya restaurant and from several bystanders on the downtown streets.

"I thought at the time that we had at least a half-dozen accidents," Benitez said.

Police were able to intercept the vehicle where a traffic barrier left over from traffic control meets Palo Alto Avenue, just one block west of Middlefield Road, he said.

Quezada was taken into custody and was transported to Stanford Hospital, Benitez said. He did not know Quezada's current status or if he had been released.

Police suspect Quezada had been drinking -- several beer cans were found in his truck -- but remained cautious about ascribing his impairment to alcohol alone because of his medical issues, Benitez said.

"To be fair, he was definitely impaired, but what part of that was due to alcohol and what part was because of his medical condition we don't know," Benitez said.

"There was no doubt that he was impaired and he exhibited intoxication, but diabetics do present themselves in the same way," he said, having slurred speech, disorientation, an unsteady gait and even the smell of alcohol on their breaths due to ketoacidosis.

But "we did a glucose check and his blood sugar was normal. We have a strong suspicion it was overwhelmingly related to alcohol," Benitez said. Quezada did have a valid driver's license, he added.

Due to the presence of beer cans, Quezada's prior drunk-driving convictions and that he admitted he recently had been drinking, he was arrested for DUI and hit and run, Benitez said.

Blood-test results won't be returned for two weeks and will look for alcohol and other substances and medications, he said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2010 at 10:37 am

"A man with a history of diabetes" -- in the same breath as "DUI". Is diabetes considered a moral failure? The fact is, people nowadays with disabilities and all kinds medical conditions detrimental to safe driving are strongly encouraged to continue to drive. Perhaps there should be better transportation alternatives instead of forcing and encouraging everyone to drive.


Like this comment
Posted by Heartfulart
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 6, 2010 at 10:40 am

And this guy still has a license because....????


Like this comment
Posted by mandatory jail for DUIs
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 6, 2010 at 10:52 am

He was lucky that he didn't kill anyone. We need mandatory jail time for any DUI conviction. That's the only way to make our streets safe (or at least safer) from these criminals.


Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2010 at 10:57 am

Can someone explain what "diabetes" has to do with the fact that he was drunk driving? I have known many diabetics...and none of them got drunk and drove through town like a bat out of hell.

He could have killed someone.


Like this comment
Posted by Jared Bernstein
a resident of University South
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:05 am

I think that a common medication for diabetes will show positive on a Breath-analyzer machine. Thus, to determine alcohol content, a blood test is required. If so, his diabetes is relevant.


Like this comment
Posted by Justme
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:17 am

I don't consider diabetes to be a valid reason to keep someone from driving, unless that condition causes safety issues. I do have some compassion for disabilities, but that compassion ends when safty becomes an issue. I don't believe the legally blind should drive either. But I question if diabetes alone can cause unsafe driving.

But we are talking about more than diabetes here. We are talking about DUI, repeated accidents, and nearly running over (I count) 5 pedestrians, two of which were children. His failure to stop after the first accident, and going on to have 3 more accidents, is very serious, it is a wonder no one was hurt.

Can anyone here propose any reason why this person should EVER be behind the wheel again in this lifetime?


Like this comment
Posted by JGD
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:34 am

Alcohol intake can exacerbate hypoglycemia which in turn will impair ability to drive safely. So, it is relevant when describing the situation.


Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:37 am

What hospital released him?

Why isn't he in custody?

And why didn't a reporter track down information about the whereabouts if the perpetrator when Benitez didn't know??


Like this comment
Posted by T
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:45 am

those diabetics! won't somebody think of the children!?


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Posted by Mark
a resident of University South
on Dec 6, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Nayeli, the concern was not whether or not he was diabetic, but rather if he was hypoglycemic (having "low blood sugar") at the time of the incident. Someone who has very low blood sugar starts to act irrationally, becomes impaired and can even become unconscious.

See link:
Web Link

It is not uncommon for diabetics with low blood sugar to appear "drunk" when they are in fact severely hypoglycemic. Giving them sugar would rapidly improve this.

Jared, diabetic medications do not interfere with the Breathalyzers.


Like this comment
Posted by gio
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Why is this story being sugar coated (excuse the pun) with diabetes and then towards the end it is mentioned there were empty beer cans in the car. This guy could have hurt or killed so many people and due to political correctness you choose to blame his medical condition before addressing the hard facts and probabilities. You guys are border lining on yellow journalism in my humble opinion.


Like this comment
Posted by PC
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2010 at 1:58 pm

The political correctness of this story is approximately 99.8%. Well done, even by Palo Alto standards!


Like this comment
Posted by Birt Harvey
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2010 at 2:11 pm

When diabetics have ketoacidosis, the smell of their breath is sweet.
The smell of alcohol is quite different.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm

No surprise that some are ready to pass sentence before the police have investigated. The driver may have been incapacitated by alcohol, by diabetes, or, something else.

Regarding diabetes, there are many sad cases from the past, e.g. Mary Bernstein and her boyfriend Robert Conway:

Web Link

Lots of discussion about this over the years:

Web Link

Many more cases where that came from. e.g.:

Web Link

It would be nice if our society did not require individuals to drive, and offered workable alternatives, instead of what is done today-- usually pressuring diabetics to drive until something bad happens.



Like this comment
Posted by PC
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Well, there was that "presence of beer cans, Quezada's prior drunk-driving convictions and that he admitted he recently had been drinking".

This seems like a classic case of "if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck its probably a duck".

The medical exegesis sure looks like a diversion - and very, very PC.


Like this comment
Posted by gio
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2010 at 4:19 pm

What bothers me about the story is how it is presented starting with the title " driver pinballs through downtown palo alto" when this could have easily ended in loss of life, then we go into the diabetes issue and then finally we learn there were beer cans in the car and he admitted to have been drinking and: But "we did a glucose check and his blood sugar was normal. We have a strong suspicion it was overwhelmingly related to alcohol," Benitez(officer) said. and yet the focus is on diabetes. WHY?


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2010 at 4:22 pm

PC writes: "The medical exegesis sure looks like a diversion - and very, very PC."

PC cuts both ways. It is PC for some to assume guilt until proven innocent. One could say that it is very, very PC to assume DUI even though the case is still under investigation.

In any case, I hope the individual in this case has transportation alternatives that do not require driving in the future, whether the issue is alcohol, diabetes, or a heart condition.



Like this comment
Posted by low/high glucose vs. alcohol
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 7, 2010 at 12:06 am

The probable reason why diabetes was mentioned in the same breath as DUI is that very high or very low blood sugar can mimic the effects of alcohol. Thus, when you have someone who's "acting drunk," you can't assume it's either one or the other. Yes, there are other potential reasons for poor coordination, but these two are very common. It was responsible of the police for not jumping to a false conclusion. A normal blood glucose reading would strongly suggest DUI w/o involvement of hypo/hyperglycemia.

Having diabetes isn't a moral failure. Failing to take care of your condition potentially is, especially when it can put so many people at risk.


Like this comment
Posted by GoodnessSakes!
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2010 at 3:10 am

We cannot allow people to drive if they have uncontrolled diabetes, or any similar issue. Call a taxi and sell your car so you can be driven safely to get you where you need and want to be.....Or you likely will have your driver's license taken away.


Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 7, 2010 at 11:15 am

Taking away a license does not stop repeated DUI people from driving. An ignition interlock device can be overcome by having a friend blow into it. Jail time for life for a non-injury DUI to prevent them from driving? Not likely.


Like this comment
Posted by SafetyWoman
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm

If you are ever tested by a breathalyzer for potential drunken driving, be sure that you or your friend ask quickly to have a blood sample taken, so it can be a very accurate and helpful statistic.


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

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