Dented plane leads to quest for clues at Modesto airport

Jim Lawson couldn't figure out what happened to his airplane.

Hertz employees couldn't figure out what happened to their car.

And the staff at the Modesto Airport couldn't figure out what happened to the fence.

The incidents, reported separately Sunday, are tied by an unusual accident: a car went through the fence, hit the plane and was left at the rental agency.

"It's bizarre," Lawson said Wednesday, after the pieces of the story came together. "She drove over the embankment, took out the chain-link fence and then hit the plane."

Lawson's Piper Malibu was on the ramp in front of Sky Trek Aviation after he landed after a flight Sunday evening. He didn't know anything was wrong until he got a call from Sky Trek employees, telling him there was a dent. When he looked at the damage, it was clear something had scraped the bottom of the wing.

The driver, Sydnee Alyster of Clovis, N.M., said the incident happened after she got disoriented and "zigged when I should have zagged."

Alyster said Wednesday that she knew she had hit the plane, but didn't remember driving through the fence or into a restricted area.

"The easiest thing to say is that I just got disoriented," she said. "I was in a hurry. I did not see the wing of the plane when I hit it."

Alyster said she was heading to the airport for an early flight. "It was 5 o'clock in the morning, and I got lost," she said.

Alyster didn't realize the damage to the Kia — it was dark, she said — and left the keys in the Hertz drop box.

Lawson said Alyster apparently was driving north on Mitchell Road near the airport when the rental Kia went across all the lanes of the road and through the fence, narrowly missing navigation equipment.

An overnight maintenance patrol discovered the broken fence. Hertz staff, upon finding the car, contacted Airport Manager Jerome Thiele, who went looking for damaged planes, Lawson said.

The Modesto Police Department took a collision report, listing it as a "name exchange," meaning nobody was hurt.

Thiele said his staff is working with the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration and a federal air marshal.

"Because the vehicle had entered a secured airport perimeter, the matter has now been turned over to the Department of Homeland Security," Thiele said.

Alyster said none of the agencies had contacted her. She said she had been talking with Hertz representatives to take care of damage. Hertz employees refused to comment.

"I've never had anything like this happen to me," she said. "I've never had a ticket, never had a wreck, there were no alcohol or drugs or anything like that involved.

"I'm very sorry for any damage that I've done. I'm glad that I had full coverage, of course, on my rental car."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.