Sept. 22--Police say a 43-year-old Santa Fe man had a seizure before the SUV he was driving smashed into the side of the Office Depot store in the College Plaza Shopping Center on Thursday, the third time this year that a vehicle has crashed into a business at the complex on Cerrillos Road at St. Michael's Drive.
A police report said the driver "appeared to be disoriented and had difficulty answering simple questions" after the accident, which caused the airbag to deploy from the steering wheel of his 2004 Nissan.
The driver was transported to the hospital while a tow truck removed the vehicle, the front of which was crushed by the impact of a collision that witnesses said occurred at near-highway speed.
Debris, including bits of concrete, mangled shelving and merchandise, was scattered near the opening in the wall where the SUV slammed into the building. No one inside the store was injured, although a manager said an employee who had been standing in a nearby aisle was shaken up.
Darrel Yancey, construction foreman for Coronado Wrecking and Salvage, said he and a crew working on a project in front of Office Depot were standing outside the building at about 8 a.m. when he heard a loud noise from the Nissan hitting a speed bump in the parking lot. He looked over to see the vehicle heading toward the store at speed he estimated was at least 50 mph.
Louis Cohn, an electrician who was working in the parking lot at the time of the incident, said he did not see the crash. But he and another electrician, Jon Robert Black, rushed to the vehicle to check on the driver.
"He wasn't conscious at first, but he came to," Black said of the driver, who they found slouched over the airbag while gray smoke rose from the mangled front of the car.
Cohn, worried about a vehicle fire, cut the man's seat belt off. But he said he did not want to move the driver out of fear of injuring him. "He didn't know where he was or what was going on when the cops were talking to him," Cohn said.
Bob Urias, customer service manager at Office Depot, who arrived after the crash, did not have an estimate of how much it would cost to repair the damage.
The vehicle struck a vertical steel beam in the structure and bent steel reinforcement bars that were left sticking out of chunks of concrete block at the point of impact.
In the same shopping center on March 2, an 81-year-old woman trying to park her Subaru Forester accelerated through the front dining area of Jambo Café, scattering tables and sending lunch-hour customers scrambling. Later that same month, a Nissan Sentra driven by a 40-year-old woman smashed through the glass storefront of an adjoining clothing store, Cato Fashions.
No one was killed or seriously hurt in those incidents, in which police believe the drivers confused the accelerator and brake pedals.
In July, a 70-year old woman escaped serious injury after she mistakenly hit the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and crashed into a storefront while trying to park her station wagon in front of DancingBones Wellness Center, 2801 Rodeo Road.
After the March crashes at the College Plaza Shopping Center, John Waterbury, principal of a California-based real estate group, told The New Mexican that the property owner would soon install bollards -- short, vertical posts -- between storefronts and parking spaces that are perpendicular to the businesses.
"We're going to make it impossible for this to happen again," Waterbury said.
While there were horizontal concrete wheel stops at parking spots next to storefronts that face Cerrillos Road, there were no such barriers in front of the parking spots next to the Office Depot's northeast-facing exterior wall Thursday.
Efforts to reach Waterbury on Thursday were unsuccessful. A property manager who answered the phone at his California office said he was unavailable for comment.
Contact Justin Horwath at 505-986-3017 or [email protected]
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