News


Fiery crash closes University Avenue Sunday morning

Vehicle traveling 100 mph goes airborne, flips

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.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by good lord
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 11, 2011 at 9:26 am

Lock the driver up and throw away the key. If he ever drives again, there is a good chance he will kill and/or maim innocent people.


Like this comment
Posted by Thank You Public Safety
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2011 at 10:15 am

Thank you Public Safety Officers (firefighters and police officers.) I watched you all work very hard for alomost an hour to extricate the driver of that mangled SUV. Thank you for serving us in Palo Alto. I wish all the citizens who want to slash your pay/benefits could have awoken from their warm beds and watched you work. You deserve everything you get, you don't deserve continued attacks about your pay and benefits. Thank you again for what you do


Like this comment
Posted by MyThaughts
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Sally
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

We get these egregious DUI cases in Palo Alto, because our Downtown is a destination saloon. If we require the bars to close by 11 PM, we will see a lot less of this nonsense.


Like this comment
Posted by Moo
a resident of Woodside
on Sep 11, 2011 at 1:21 pm

A suspected DUI driver behind the wheel of a Yukon? Thank goodness he didn't kill anyone driving that behemoth.


Like this comment
Posted by Moe.M
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I strongly hate drunk drivers I never use the word hate but its like this man and all the other drunk drives sometimes kill people and destroy families. Its so sad to me that some people just don't care I couldn't even imagine losing a loved one or having to see in the papers or the news about a innocent person who died because of a drunk driver! I love police DUI checks wish they had more than just sometimes & on the holidays. I'm so glad no one was killed in this accident thank God! drunk drivers including this man should do at least 5+ years in prison! Another thing I'm so happy his wife & child was not in that car, I hope this man will never be able to get/have his licenses again!


Like this comment
Posted by peter preciado
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm

He almost killed me too last night. i was driving home from work at 3am, south on alma and the HUGE truck swerved into my lane. i had to swerve to the right to not get hit head on and i thought, omg that guy is doing 100! thank god i wasn't looking at my phone or my radio or i would have been dead. a huge wake up call for me. i was so mad i turned around to see if they hopefully caught him soon and what i drove up to was so horrible i almost vomited. i thought for sure everyone in that truck were dead. when they pulled out the car seat i almost cried. i couldn't sleep all night.
i don't know what should be done to someone who behaves in such a dangerous, selfish manner, but i don't think anyone who saw that horrible wreck would be saying such terrible things. i don't wish him more pain and trouble than he already has. if he doesn't lose his family over this, he is a lucky sob. i hope it is a wake up call for him. he is more than lucky to have his life. he should be dead.


Like this comment
Posted by SPH
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm

He not only put innocent citizens life at risk but the officers who chased him. He will probably be a repeat DUI offender, if he is not already.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm

If the web can be believed here are a few of the more stringent DUI penalties.

In Saudi Arabia, DUI offences are punishable by lashes in the public square.

In Malaysia the driver is jailed and, if married, the
spouse is jailed.

South Africa imposes fine equivalent of $10,000, a ten-year prison sentence or both combined depending on the severity of the case.

In Turkey, DWI offenders are taken twenty miles from their town and then told to walk back while escorted by the police.

In El Salvador, first time DWI offenders are carted off and executed by a firing squad.

In Bulgaria they are a little more lenient as DUI offenders are only executed after they have committed their second DUI offense.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm

It's a miracle this jerk didn't kill scores of people, speaking of weapons of mass destruction. If this guy is ever allowed to drive again, our judicial system is worthless.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Sep 11, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Let's keep in mind that 18 firefighters worked for almost an hour to extricate this guy from the mangled car, and EVERY ONE of them was performing a critical task. When it was over, most of them were physically tapped. And while this event was going on, other emergencies were happening in the community that the remaining fire fighters on duty handled.


Like this comment
Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Agt. Craig Lee
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Mr. Peter Preciado,

I am currently the supervisor of the PAPD Specialized Traffic Accident Reconstruction Team that is investigating this collision.

Could you please contact me or Detective Dan Bybee (investigating officer), at 329-2413, so that we can speak with you about what you witnessed?

Thank you.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 12, 2011 at 5:20 am

I bet his auto insurance rate goes up. In fact this kind of thing drives up insurance rates for all drivers. And our medical insurance rates too. Hope I don't have to pay for his lawyer.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2011 at 7:28 am

I am afraid that extricating this guy from his mangled vehicle could very well result in innocent dead people in the future.


Like this comment
Posted by kongjie
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2011 at 10:30 am

kongjie is a registered user.

Just curious, anyone know what a "Police Agent" is? I'll bet they get utility belts and stuff.


Like this comment
Posted by ThanksPAPD
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

I'd like to take a moment to thank PAPD officer (agent?) Bullerjahn for having the judgement to break off the pursuit and let his colleagues work together to intercept. As it turns out the fool in the Yukon took care of things himself but I'd hate for a 100mph squad car on Alma to have caused the accident.


Like this comment
Posted by Les
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2011 at 10:53 am

From attending the citizen's police academy here in PA, the agent is a rank between officer and sergeant. they specialize in certain area, have some supervisory responsibility, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 12, 2011 at 10:59 am

First of all - good job to the public safety officers. A terrible situation with great potential to injure or kill innocent people ended with no loss of life
Although I am not familiar with DUI laws, I think, it there is no such law, there should be a category for cases such as this where there is a lifetime ban on having a driving license. With something this egregious the penalty has to be severe.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Can we program seat-belts and air-bags to selectively deploy to those who are not guilty of endangering the public safety? I suppose not, but why do we have people that do things like this ... where do they come from and is anyone considering studying this and how to reduce it .... besides throwing out the whole idea of a social safety net and our freedoms?

I have no use for anyone who would ever do something like this, yet probably compared to those who never do anything like this - this person gets and inordinate amount of public money spent on them - one way or another.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm

This case is unique, since the it's a miracle this guy didn't kill scores of people. He needs to be tried on attempted murder. The judicial system must recognize that this guy, if ever allowed to drive again, will cause unimaginable tragedy to others. Even if new laws have to be legislated retroactive to this case in order to protect the public from people like him, so be it. There are many countries in which he would be tried for attempted homicide, and even more countries in which he would never be allowed to drive again.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm

>> I love police DUI checks wish they had more than just
> sometimes & on the holidays.

We have enough experience with police sobriety checks to
be able to say statistically how many people they net that
go on to do things like this, or are they just bother people
to be politically correct.

I don't mean to say if I am for or against, but I hypothesize
that it is better to have cars patrolling and pulling people
over for a check.

Occasionally I have been going somewhere late at night or
early in the morning, and been pulled over - supposedly for
weaving or something- which I wasn't. ever. The whole
tenor of the experience used to really bother the hell out of
me and I got to really dislike the police - that is until I met
polite and professional police that we have lately.

Now thinking about it, if it was effective in finding people like
this and socking it to them - I say great, in fact since I really
do not have any reason to dislike the police I tend to appreciate
it and compliment them if I get stopped.

I still I am not weaving, but as long as they are polite and not
jerks I think it is a good thing - because these days it seems
like every single time I go out driving I see people doing the
most amazingly stupid things that they should be getting tickets
for or checked out because of ... and they aren't.

The bad driving continues 7x24 these days almost everywhere
and I am just often amazed I do not see more stops.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

This does not sound like the usual dui crash to me.

If this individual had stood in front of a train or jumped off a bridge instead we would be seeing talk about depression and mental illness. We have no idea what was in the driver's mind, or indeed what was going on in his life.

This man has a family who is probably grieving. Until or unless we know more about his state of mind, whether he was a habitual drinker or just someone going through a bad time who made a dreadful choice on how to solve his problems, there is no need for many of the hateful comments here.

I am pleased no one was hurt or killed. I wait to hear more before I judge.


Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm

What if every car had a breathalyzer linked up to its ignition? I understand this is done for some repeat offenders, but it really should be standard equipment, just like seat belts and air bags. The money we would save on auto insurance and medical insurance due to the reduced accident rates, not to mention the reduced fatalities, would more than make up for any additional expense.


Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm

While I respect the officers intent to call off a pursuit out of fear for public safety, I wonder, with the degree of reckless and apparent inebriation this person was displaying, if that was the best choice?

Of course, with the way the public likes to draw and quarter its public servants these days, it may have been the safest choice. The issue arises that the chance of this jerk killing another person would have risen exponentially with every moment he spent on the road, thereby somehow making a pursuit worthwhile.

As it is, the drunken sot took care of the matter himself, and it worked out well enough with no further injuries to an innocent party. I am curious what bar he was frequenting during his night out in Palo Alto, if any. Contrary to someone elses statement about the bars closing early, what we need is more awareness about taking proper measure of a customer's sobriety.


Like this comment
Posted by moi
a resident of University South
on Sep 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I work until 9:30 or 10:00 PM most nights and drive home on University, High Street, Forest, et cetera. Virtually every night I see wrong-way drivers, cars pulling out of parking lots right into street traffic, red light and stop sign runners, close calls with pedestrians, and a host of other infractions.

Granted, none of these cars move at 100 miles per hour, but this is a dangerous area at bar time.

Forewarned is forearmed.


P. S. Editor:
Please do not use the phrase, "a high rate of speed."


Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2011 at 4:47 pm

@moi,

If you made your commute at 9:30 or 10:00 AM, you would see the same things.

It's not a matter of driver sobriety, but the result of California's non-existent skill and knowledge requirements in drivers licensing.

If we would just up the requirements so the bottom 10% would fail, the effect would be synergistic. Congestion, accidents and driving idiocy would be reduced by over 50%


Like this comment
Posted by george
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm

As Les said, a police agent rank is between that of an officer and a sergeant. In the absence of a sergeant on scene, they are the ones in charge. Basically the training for all ranks is the same unless they are assigned to a unit with specific responsibilities.

Agent Lee has training suitable for operating a motorcycle and estimating the speed of vehicles. Likewise, if an officer is part of a SWAT team, he/she will have additional unique training, etc.

All patrol personnel wear the same equipment regardless of rank. Where SWAT action is used, they do have access to specialized devices they can use in certain circumstances, e.g. bean bag gun.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2011 at 6:11 pm

It makes no difference what was in the driver's mind, although I wouldn't be surprised if he just felt like killing a few people. He turned himself into a weapon of mass destruction and he should never be allowed, under any circumstances, to drive again, after spending many years in a state prison.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Daniel

I think it may have been in the driver's mind to kill himself not that he felt like killing others. If suicide victims suffer from depression, they are thinking of themselves not others.

I agree, he should not be allowed to drive again, but I think it also sounds as if he needs more help for his depression. It is also more likely that he was drinking at home rather than a bar, although that is just my gut feeling.

As I said before, this does not sound like the normal dui scenario of someone drinking for a good time. It sounds more like the depressive mind numbing, I want to end it all, type of scenario.


Like this comment
Posted by Linda M.
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Hello folks,

I wonder if any of you writers have ever heard of a "black-out". That is, as I understand it, a condition caused by alcohol poisoning (sometimes experienced by alcoholic drinkers). They become unconscious of their actions, but still able to have some biological functioning.

They would not remember much or any of the time period while they were so inflicted.

Alcoholism is a horrible disease. IF that illness is what enabled this young man to cause such mayhem, (and that has not been proved) -- It behooves us to have a bit of human kindness. (Yes -- he does need to pay for his actions, I agree.)

I am appalled at all the people commenting on his "WILL" to commit suicide. You have no idea. I have no idea of what it is like to be in that person's shoes, but I can imagine it is HELL. I am very grateful to be healthy and free of disease myself, and I hope that I will not ever resort to vilifying the unfortunate.

Thank you for reading this.


Like this comment
Posted by Finn
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2011 at 5:08 am

Linda M, I agree with you in concept, and do not wish to vilify anyone. However, there is a growing trend of what I see as people being let off the hook for what is termed as a "disease". In a technical sense it may be a disease, but it is also one that was brought on by themselves. This personal choice could also involve grave collateral damage, specifically in the case of a drunk driver. I respect your right to extend compassion to those suffering from alcoholism. I will withhold mine for the thousands of innocent victims who have been killed by drunk drives and their loved ones. r


Like this comment
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2011 at 8:58 am

Disease? Deressed? Sad? I really loathe these types of excuses. If drunk, he is a selfish lout with really bad judgement. I'm sure he would disagree with you that he has a problem. At least, until he and his (most likely) court appointed attorney stand before a judge. Then it will be boo hoo, woe is me.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 13, 2011 at 9:52 am

Assuming that the driver is indeed an alcoholic, having sympathy for an alcoholic who does nothing to combat his/her disease is counter-productive and encourages the alcoholic to avoid treatment. If he knew he was going to drink, he should have separated himself from his car. He should never have entered his car. A long jail sentence would take care of his alcoholism, and potentially save his life, and even better, the lives of others.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2011 at 10:00 am

Linda, I applaud your sympathy for the driver, but I must point out that he saw the police turn on lights and siren and attempted to flee at high speed. He was cognicent enough to do that, so he was aware of his surroundings.

I would also like to point out that he thought his family was in the vehicle with him, and he still drove like that. Or was that just his dazed condition after the crash?

I can understand the possibility that he may have had external pressures and stresses that caused him to behave badly, even suicidal. But my sympathy for suicidal tendancies goes down when there is wanton disregard for others. If you want to kill yourself, that is one thing. If you want to take others with you, that is another.

In any case, I am sure he will have ample time to review his life in the coming months.


Like this comment
Posted by good lord
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 13, 2011 at 10:39 am

Does not matter what was his motivation (or lack thereof). Lock him up and throw away the key. I guarantee that he will repeat offend if he ever drives again. Next time, innocent bystanders may not be so lucky.


Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 13, 2011 at 10:57 am

Live with an alcoholic, or two. Your sympathy will fade via attrition. And, just because he was stinking drunk, does not mean he is an alcoholic. He could just be an idiot.


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 13, 2011 at 11:11 am

I don't buy that an addication to something is a "disease" if by merely moving to a location without that element would cure the problem.

By the way, in prison there is easy access to home-brewed booze.


Like this comment
Posted by wow insane
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Please, cars are for driving, but Not for looking at hand-held phones and other contraptions that divert your ATTENTION while driving!


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm

wow insane, I am sorry, but did you even read the article and thread? I don't believe the discussion is about distracted driving.

Is this a case of distracted posting?


Like this comment
Posted by bayside
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm

toJ JustMe

Perfect!!

Thank you.


Like this comment
Posted by Linda M.
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Hello again folks,

I have only 2 -okay maybe 3 or 5 -- things to say after reading more.

1. Alcoholism is a disease,like cancer. There is no rhyme or reason for who has it.
2. Having the disease does not "excuse" one from responsibility. If you break laws (or do not seek treatment) you must pay the consequences.
3. If you live with an alcoholic, go to Al Anon Or Alateen. Protect and take care of yourself.
4. Peace.
5. Love and thanks for reading this.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Alcoholism is a disease? Yawn. Tell us something that we don't know, or that we might actually care about. This loser, disease-ridden or not, did a bad, bad thing. He needs to pay. He might get Linda's sympathy, which is fine, but he doesn't get mine, whether or not he has a disease. What he now has is a problem, a very big one. Now, that is something HE caused.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:03 am

>> 1. Alcoholism is a disease, like cancer. There is no rhyme or reason for who has it.

Well, there is the disease model of alcoholism, that is mostly focused around getting the person better and keeping people's negative judgement from shunning them ... but it is really not about saying that a person is sick and not responsible when they decide to act out in dangerous ways.

For instance, someone might be Obese. Obesity is a disease too, but if that person gets frustrated at being fat and decides to drive their car recklessly and crash it endangering their life and other's - society needs to protect itself from this person's actions.

What bad thing that people do cannot be broken down and looked at scientifically having roots in things that person might not be or have been able to control, yet we all share this world ... and in this case the roads, and when someone does something like this there needs to be rational consequences that protect us and assist the person.


Like this comment
Posted by John B.
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2011 at 8:19 am

Great job Bullerjahn and very good judgement. Pops.


Like this comment
Posted by Finn
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 14, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Once again Linda M, a disease that was contracted by choice, and one that often time leads to tragedies involving innocent people. You may choose to sympathize with and enable these self-inflicted losers. I'll reserve my sympathy, compassion, and support for the thousands of innocent people that had their lives taken at the hands of some drunk.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Just wondering why, after one week, the drunk driver's name still hasn't been released?


Like this comment
Posted by peter preciado
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 2:07 am

i just looked this up after more than a month. sorry i missed the posts by the police. does anyone know the drivers name? if he ended up getting out of the hospital? if he was indeed drunk? and what the charges against him were/are? i'd be very interested to know and it seems this is the only article written about it. weird.


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

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