Two people require surgery after car crashes into Palo Alto restaurant

Six injured after driver in his 90s crashes into University Cafe

Two people who were injured, one critically, required surgery after a silver Nissan crashed into a downtown Palo Alto cafe on Thursday. The accident, which injured six people including the driver, prompted police to shut down a section of University Avenue to traffic for most of the afternoon.

Four of the five injured people were seated at outdoor tables at University Cafe at 271 University Ave. when they were struck at around 12:36 p.m. The driver was trying to parallel park, his 2010 Nissan Versa, moving at about 5 mph, when he accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brake, police Agent Marianna Villaescusa said. Police said the driver is in his 90s.

The car jumped the curb, hitting another car (a 2014 Acura four-door sedan) parked on University in front of the restaurant and crashing into the western side of the building, police said.

The victims' injuries do not appear to be life-threatening, Palo Alto police said Friday. A man in his 30s who sustained injuries to his lower legs required surgery. A second man in his 70s whose legs and back were injured also required surgery, according to police. The other seated cafe patrons, a woman in her 60s and a man in his 20s, sustained abrasions and scrapes on various parts of their bodies.

The fifth injured person, a man in his 30s, was walking by the cafe when he was struck. He sustained a cut to his head, police said.

The driver of the vehicle involved, a man in his 90s from San Jose, has an abrasion on one of his arms, probably due to airbag deployment, according to police.

The driver was interviewed by officers Thursday afternoon. Police said there is no indication at this point that either drugs or alcohol played a part in the accident. The driver has not been arrested or cited at this time, police said.

A section of University Avenue, between Ramona and Bryant streets, was closed off to traffic Thursday afternoon while medical responders arrived at the crash scene and officers investigated. Police reopened the street for westbound traffic at about 4 p.m.

As far as the police know, the driver did not have a medical incident immediately before the crash, according to Villaescusa.

Five of the victims were taken to Stanford Hospital for treatment.

One eyewitness, James Fowler, told the Pal Alto Weekly that he was standing outside the restaurant with his wife, about to go inside, when he saw the car accelerate.

"The car was stopped behind another car and then I just saw out of the corner of my eye, it accelerated up onto the curb," Fowler said.

He pulled his wife out of the way just as she felt the car brush against her dress. They then saw the car run into an outdoor table, hitting one man, he said. He said another person who was standing was also hit and was "carried by the car."

The family of victims of a similar car accident in downtown Menlo Park last October eventually filed a lawsuit against the driver. Three brothers – one 9-year-old and twin 6-year-olds – were walking down Santa Cruz Avenue when a 90-year-old Woodside resident jumped a curb and pinned the twins against a wall, leaving one with a broken arm and the other in serious condition.

The man's driver's license was confiscated at the time, and he was ordered to schedule an examination within five business days with the DMV or risk suspension of his license. The boys' family filed a lawsuit against him in November, seeking punitive as well as general damages on behalf of all three boys for their injuries.

Menlo Park police said that because the driver held a valid license and wasn't under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of the accident, he faced only an infraction for driving on the sidewalk.

California doesn't have separate licensing standards for senior drivers, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, but instead looks at every driver's mental and physical ability to comply with traffic laws.

Villaescusa said it can take up to 30 days to complete an investigation, but that with statements from the cooperative driver and many witnesses, it could be done sooner.

Related stories:

In wake of accident, a call for forum on seniors and driving safety


Like this comment
Posted by voice_of_reason
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 1, 2014 at 12:44 pm

"The driver of the vehicle involved, a man in his 90s from San Jose, has an abrasion on one of his arms, probably due to airbag deployment, according to police."

Driving is not a human right or a necessity. Senior drivers don't want to lose the privilege? Stay fit as you can and pass a full exam. Our government is failing us (shocking I know). This is the 2nd incident in IN THIS SMALL AREA ALONE in the last couple of years that has been reported. Who knows how many other incidents there were that didn't warrant an article in the local rag.

It sucks to age, but its incumbent on those who have enjoyed so many years on this planet to use their accumulated wisdom and respect their limitations. And when they do not, government needs to step in quickly and effectively. I want to feel reasonably safe from random vehicular violence when I walk down the street. Asking too much?

Like this comment
Posted by Reader
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Aug 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm

I have, never seen, so many commas, in a storyline, I say.

Like this comment
Posted by GH
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Aug 1, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Google's self-driving cars can't come soon enough.

Like this comment
Posted by 90 comma years
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Aug 1, 2014 at 1:58 pm

"Google's self-driving cars can't come soon enough."

Because, 90 year olds, are such early adopters, and successful, users of, technology?

(commas, courtesy of, @reader.)

Like this comment
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2014 at 2:51 pm

pearl is a registered user.

DMV website for reporting unsafe drivers:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by IRT
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 1, 2014 at 3:19 pm

What did the driver indicate happened in his own words?
2010 NISSAN VERSA Problems & Complaints
Web Link
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 1, 2014 at 5:37 pm

He sent 5 people to the hospital and he wasn't cited? They should at least take his license away until the investigation is completed. Maybe they did and I didn't read the article correctly (?)
If he had killed one of those people, I'm pretty sure they would have, so why wait until that happens. I remember this happened in Chicago about 15 years ago and they didn't take his license away. 6 weeks later the guy ran a curb again and killed 2 people. What is more important…his driving privileges or the safety of innocent pedestrians?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 1, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From Mercury News:
"The elderly driver who struck and injured five people in downtown Palo Alto on Thursday while trying to parallel park has been notified to take an "emergency retest" at the Department of Motor Vehicles to see if his license should be taken away, a police spokesman said.

Such notices are issued when police have concerns about someone's ability to operate a motor vehicle, Palo Alto police Lt. Zach Perron said Friday. The driver, who has only been identified as a San Jose resident in his 90s, has just five days to take the test."

Clearly PA PD uses a different standard for such situations than does MP PD.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Aug 2, 2014 at 7:19 am

OK, now that this has happened twice in a few months it is time to acknowledge a simple fact: after 90 years of age drivers should be tested every year---a driving test, not just a paper exam. Maybe we should drop that to 80 (only five years from my age)? Maybe we should in memory of Tom Maddox, a biker and fine professor, who was run off Skyline by a driver in her 80s---Tom died at Stanford shortly thereafter. Yeah, I think 80 is the proper age for yearly driving exams. Let your Assembly or Senate member know your feelings and let's get this law started and passed.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 2, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Ninety years old does seem too old for driving even for someone in good shape. Reaction times do slow down with age. Additionally, he had driven all the way from San Jose on a freeway that is known for speeding. If there had been an accident, it is doubtful he could have reacted quickly.

Incidentally, what are the accident statistics for elderly drivers and how do they compare with the statistics for teenage drivers?

Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Aug 2, 2014 at 4:17 pm

I'm confused.

I've been on University Ave in PA many times. It has sidewalks and curbs, protecting pedestrians from vehicles.

How could the pedestrians possibly have been hit? I don't understand.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 2, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

accident statistics by age group:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Scott McMahon
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 3, 2014 at 2:43 pm

@ 90 comma years: On elderly adopters...

Even if the elderly aren't exactly up to date, I think the self driving car is very likely to be quickly adopted. Many older drivers know they aren't as capable, but the alternatives aren't good. Also, as a child of an elderly driver who's beginning to lose it, I'd leap at the chance to get him a google car. No loss of mobility, and no difficult, family harmony shattering, decision about when to take away the keys.

Like this comment
Posted by voice_of_reason
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 3, 2014 at 6:31 pm

It seems very likely that a previously healthy 30yo man will either die or be physiologically and neurologically devastated due to injuries sustained in this accident. It's no longer just broken bones that need to mend.

@Peter Carpenter: I assume you are referencing the incident in downtown MP? Whatever role the MP PD played in the aftermath of that incident, the driver's response/statement was beyond deplorable.

@Bob: 80yo is the right starting point at the very least -- maybe 75yo. The problem is that not all 75yo's are equal. Some are very fit and have maintained decent balance and muscle tone and others sit firmly on the path to rapid decline. I think a firm argument can be made to start such testing in the 70s. The problem of course is that it's a slippery slope. Regardless it needs to start somewhere.

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

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