A 32-year-old suspected drunk driver narrowly escaped with his life early Sunday morning after a high-speed crash that ended with his vehicle bursting into flames on University Avenue, according to Palo Alto police.
The driver had been traveling the wrong way northbound on Alma Street, in the southbound lane near Oregon Expressway at 2:54 a.m., according to Palo Alto police.
Police Agent Rich Bullerjahn, who was driving south on Alma Street at the time, said he encountered the vehicle.The driver swerved to avoid hitting the curb, nearly colliding head-on with Bullerjahn.
The vehicle crossed the lanes heading directly toward Bullerjahn, who avoided the collision. The officer turned his vehicle around, activated his emergency lights and siren and attempted to make a vehicle stop.
As Bullerjahn turned on his rack lights, the man accelerated to an estimated 100 mph or higher speed. The suspected drunk driver continued northbound in the southbound lanes at a high rate of speed, distancing himself from the pursuing officer.
Police called off the pursuit after determining the dangers were too high to other motorists and lost the vehicle at Churchill Avenue. He was again observed by officers at Hamilton Avenue and Alma Street, this time in the northbound lane, Bullerjahn said.
When the driver approached the University Avenue overpass, he struck a small traffic island and flattened a metal sign pole, crossed the University Avenue on-ramp, smashed through the metal guard rail above the embankment and took out a layer of the concrete wall.
The black GMC Yukon went airborne between two large oak trees, tearing off bark, hurtled over metal guard rails on University and landed on its roof just at the eastern entrance of University Avenue and the undercrossing.
The car's undercarriage burst into flames and the driver had to be extricated by emergency crews, Bullerjahn said.
Complicating matters, the driver told police he believed two others were in the vehicle, he said.
Police found child car seats in the vehicle and for a while they feared children had been victims, police spokeswoman Lieut. Sandra Brown said.
A phone call to the driver's home determined that his wife and children were safe at home. No one else was found in or near the vehicle, she said.
The driver was taken to Stanford Hospital where he is being treated for moderate injuries, Brown said.
Crews lifted the vehicle to make sure that no one was beneath it, she said.
"Looking at that vehicle, he should have been dead," Brown said, given the extent of damage.
Bullerjahn said if the accident had happened an hour earlier more fatalities could have occurred. At 2 a.m. when downtown bars close, many taxis drive patrons along that route and where the vehicle came to rest, he said.
The driver is a Mountain View resident whose name has not been released. He has not been charged at this time, Bullerjahn said.
University Avenue was reopened at about 9:45 a.m.