Alcohol, speed led to Stanford scholar's fatal crash

Rune Thode Nielsen had more than twice the legal blood-alcohol limit when collision occurred, police say

A Stanford University visiting scholar who died in a car crash on rain-slicked Middlefield Road Dec. 18 had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit and was driving at 50 to 60 mph on the 25 mph road, according to Palo Alto police.

Rune Thode Nielsen, 25, was driving southbound on Middlefield when his vehicle struck a sign on the west side of the street, then slammed into a tree and ricocheted off a parked vehicle before coming to rest in the front yard of a home near the intersection at Hawthorne Avenue at 12:50 a.m., according to police. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office told Palo Alto police investigators that Nielsen's blood-alcohol level was 0.212, according to police spokeswoman Lt. Sandra Brown. The legal limit is 0.08.

Police investigators also determined Nielsen was traveling at approximately 50-60 mph.

"This is determined by the damage to the vehicle (crush), the damage to the tree and the resting location of the vehicle. Fire personnel were on scene and tried life-saving measures to no avail. He was apparently at a party earlier in the evening and was observed drinking," Brown said.

Jessie Montano, an administrative-support officer at the medical examiner-coroner's office, said the case is still open and he could not comment on the findings. No autopsy was performed but toxicology tests were done on Nielsen, he said.

Nielsen, a Danish national from Copenhagen, studied nanotechnology and "had a huge network of friends," a source said after his death.

He was a resident of the St. Claire Gardens neighborhood on Palo Alto.

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Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2011 at 11:09 am

I am afraid that this just goes to show that even the very brilliant can be stupid. I am very sorry for his passing, but driving while intoxicated and traveling that speed on Middlefield are not bright things to do, expecially at the same time. There is a reason why the speed limit is 25 mph on that street, this is not the first time there has been a death there where excessive speed was a major factor.

I am very sorry that he was not stopped by the police before he crashed, I would MUCH rather have him get a learning experience than what he got. My condolances to his family and all who knew him, and I am sure we have all lost out without the contributions his life would have made. All we can do now is take a lesson from this story and "Don't do dat!". This is truly sad.

Like this comment
Posted by Lesson Learned
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 1, 2011 at 11:36 am

When this was first reported, a lot of people wrote comments stating that this young man couldn't possibly have been driving drunk because he was a scholar at Stanford. The implication of this statement is that only the dregs of society drive drunk. That's simply not true, and to believe that fosters a dangerous stereotype. Almost everyone in this community drinks at parties, at dinners, and at home. Some of us -- professors, scientists, doctors, lawyers, promising students and plain folks -- have, at one time or another, gotten behind that wheel when we shouldn't have. If we're still here, maybe it's because we were lucky. NOT because we were, or are, morally superior.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2011 at 11:48 am

Odd. I heard that Menlo Park PD saw the car speeding at over 50 MPH just before the crash. I wonder why the Palo Alto PD didn't mention that.

Like this comment
Posted by Joyce
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm

It is so sad to see a person with such great achievements lose his life to drunk driving! May his soul RIP!

This guy's accident would have ended up killing someone else also.

Lessons learned: Just because a student has A+ grades doesn't mean he can't make stupid decisions in life! Or was it peer pressure?

Like this comment
Posted by RIP
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Thank you for publishing this article. This is a tragedy in many ways.

Hopefully others can learn from his mistake. Drinking and driving can kill you and can cause you to kill innocent people around you.

Don't drive after drinking. And don't let your friends drive drunk either.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Don't rule out depression or mental illness.

Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Lesson Learned certainly has it right. A 25-year old kid with a BAL of .21 is out-of-his-mind drunk. It takes effort to get that blasted. Doesn't matter at that point if he's from East Palo Alto or Stanford University.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2011 at 3:19 pm

0.212, that takes alot of work to get that number, he might be smart but certainly not very logical and responsible.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 1, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I saw the wreaked car that night. More like 70+ mph.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Scholar, as someone who lives in EPA, I concur - and as the spouse of an academic. DUIs have nothing to do w/class or socioeconomic level, & have everything to do w/danger & stupidity.

I said, immediately upon reading about this horrible death, that I was glad no one else was injured or killed. People railed on me & others for those sentiments in postings here, but I've been in this area too long & seen to much to not be grateful no one else was hurt. And I know many an academic & professional who drink, incl plenty who drink to excess sometimes - & this is at Stanford. Please note that Scandinavian culture really emphasizes drinking & I know whereof I speak. The thing is, in so many of the big cities there, they have excellent public transportation so people don't have to get behind the wheel. This guy didn't have to, either - a cab or a friend could've helped him.

So I reiterate my original statements: I am so glad no one else was hurt or killed. I am very sorry for this man's loved ones, but a drunk is a drunk & behind the wheel, they're killers - no matter what their IQ, accomplishments or place of origin.

Like this comment
Posted by RIP
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 1, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I agree with Hmmm. More than double the speed limit. More than double the DUI limit. In the rain. Very fortunate that no one else was killed.

I hope that other people from this party come forward and publicly talk about what happened before this young man died. Stopping others from killing themselves this way would be a worthy legacy to this man's too short life.

Like this comment
Posted by Driving 101
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 2, 2011 at 5:37 am

Scholar + Alcohol + Driving = Ex-Scholar

Not funny.

Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 2, 2011 at 6:38 am

It's interesting that so many feel necessary to smugly point out that a Stanford scholar is not immune to driving drunk. It might be better to judge the victim as a human being like all the rest of us first. Way to much value placed on the deceased's affiliation to Stanford.

Like this comment
Posted by Wanda
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2011 at 8:11 am

I hope all that are touched by this loss, as I was, can take a moment to pity the young man and his family then find something in their heart that will grow.

Like this comment
Posted by Agree with Wanda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm

You put it very well Wanda... Some here seem to rejoice in his death. I find it sickening to read all those reactions.

I renew all my condolences to his family.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Please, no one is rejoicing in his death. Many of us aren't surprised that he was drunk & speeding, however, which is something which some pooh-poo'd originally because he was a visiting scholar & some thought that meant untouchable. Feeling relieved that no one else was hurt or killed is natural, as is not holding his actions in the highest esteem.

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

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