Modesto police are trying to figure just what caused a police car and sport-utility vehicle to strike one another in a spectacular wreck that tore the police car in two and tied up traffic for nearly six hours Monday. Both drivers suffered only minor injuries.
"Any time you see this type of damage to vehicles, we were very lucky they were not injured and did not have any significant injuries," said police spokesman Officer Scott Nelson.
The accident happened about 6 a.m. when the first car in a line of police vehicles responding to a call collided with a Ford Expedition on Scenic Drive, ripping the trunk of the police car from the passenger cabin.
Scenic was closed between Bodem Street and Coffee Road until 11:30 a.m. Hundreds of commuters had to find alternate routes.
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The drivers, who were alone in their vehicles, were taken to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, examined and released. The SUV driver had a cut near the knee, and officer Lee Gaines complained of pain, Nelson said.
Police said the officers were headed east on Scenic to back up another officer who was chasing a suspect on foot in northeast Modesto. The police cars -- there were at least two following Gaines -- had their lights flashing and sirens on when Gaines' car collided with the westbound Expedition driven by Pablo Perez of Modesto.
The accident occurred east of Bodem Street and just beyond the eastern portion of a curve where there have been numerous accidents over the years, Nelson said.
The speed of each car, how they collided and if weather was a factor remained under investigation, Nelson said.
Perez could not be reached for comment.
Joanne Fairchilds, who was driving to work and was in the right lane alongside Perez, said the officer was driving too fast. She said his car came out of the turn, slid out of control and went sideways into the SUV's path.
"He had his lights on and came whipping around the corner and we had no time to react," she said. "I was there on impact and heard the actual sound and all the debris falling everywhere. "I looked in my rearview mirror, and I could see (the police car) spinning out of control."
The impact tore the trunk and back wheels off the police car. They ended up on the sidewalk on the south side of Scenic near the crash site and in front of the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.
The rest of the car, with Gaines inside, skidded east up the road 100 or so feet. It came to rest in the left westbound lane.
Gaines was driving a Police Interceptor model of a four-door Ford Crown Victoria sedan. He has been with the department since July 2007.
The Expedition was badly damaged. Its front end was crumpled, and there were broad scrapes along the driver's side doors.
Fairchilds, shaken by the accident, said she had nowhere to stop safely and continued just past Bodem before pulling over in a parking lot to gather herself.
"I'm all for the police officers doing their job, and they do have a dangerous job to do," Fairchilds said. "But still, they have to think about the safety of others."
Nelson said police are still trying to piece together the accident but that it would be investigated like any other. Nelson said the investigation could take a week to several weeks to finish.
He said the department will take appropriate measures if the officer is found to be at fault. That could involve additional training up to disciplinary action, he said.
The Police Department is trying to gather information about the crash. It's asking witnesses to call Romel Cuellar at 652-1059. Nelson said the department is only seeking information and that nobody would be cited for leaving the scene.
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