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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 miles per hour, 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 car was later moved back on the sidewalk toward University.

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 to various locations on their bodies.

The fifth injured person, a man in his 30s, was walking by the cafe when he was struck. He sustained a laceration 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, likely 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 re-opened 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 Weekly that he was standing outside the restaurant with his wife, about to go inside when he saw the car accelerate out of the corner of his eye.

"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 a investigation, but that with statements from the cooperative driver and many witnesses, it could be quicker.

Related stories:

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

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