A red Ferrari Enzo — one of only 400 ever made and worth more than $1 million — broke apart Tuesday when it crested a hill on Pacific Coast Highway going 120 mph and slammed into a power pole.
The driver jumped out of the wreckage and ran into the canyon above, evading a three-hour search by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department helicopter and a mountain search-and-rescue team.
The crash did not result in serious injuries. But it sent shockwaves through both the tabloid and exotic car worlds as one group wondered if the driver was a celebrity and the other mourned the loss of a hand-built car revered by many as a work of art.
The car was certain to be owned by someone rich, if not famous. Actor Nicolas Cage owns one. And Malibu local Britney Spears has been chased in a Ferrari by the paparazzi.
But by day's end the tabloids were disappointed to learn that the demolished car had been owned by a Swedish millionaire without a Screen Actors Guild card.
Sheriff's investigators identified him as 44-year-old Stefan Eriksson, a Bel-Air resident. Officials are trying to determine whether he is the noted Swedish game designer whose firm, perhaps not surprisingly, was involved with car-racing themed video games.
Authorities said Eriksson said he was a passenger in the Ferrari, which he said was being driven by a German acquaintance he knew only as Dietrich.
One witness told deputies that the Ferrari appeared to be racing with a Mercedes-Benz SLR northbound along the coastal highway when the accident occurred about 6 a.m. west of Decker Road.
"It took out the pole, and part of the car went another 600 feet," Sheriff's Sgt. Philip Brooks said. "There were 1,200 feet of debris out there."
Eriksson told authorities that "Dietrich" ran up a hill toward the canyon road and disappeared. Brooks said detectives are far from convinced they have the whole story.
Eriksson "had a .09 blood-alcohol level, but if he's a passenger, that's OK," Brooks said. "But he had a bloody lip, and only the air bag on the driver's side had blood on it. The passenger-side air bag did not. My Scooby-Doo detectives are looking closely into that.
"Maybe the 'driver' had a friend who picked him up. Maybe he thumbed a ride," the sergeant added. "Maybe he was a ghost."
The crash left Ferrari fans anguished.
"I'm not surprised the driver ran away. He'd have been strangled by the owner," said Tex Otto, a Santa Monica graphic artist who edits two magazines for Ferrari owners.
"This will have a big impact on the local Ferrari community. This was not a car. It was a rolling art form."
Ferrari owner Chris Banning, a Beverly Hills writer who is finishing a book called the "Mulholland Experience" that will touch on the cult of sports car racing on that mountain roadway, characterized the Enzo's destruction as "a tremendous loss" to the automotive world.
"He destroyed one of the finest cars on Earth, maybe the finest. It's like taking a Van Gogh painting and burning it," said Banning, who is a leader of the Ferrari Owners Club.
Gil Lucero, a Mountain View telecommunications company executive who is president and Pacific region chairman of the Ferrari Club of America, said only 399 Enzos were at first scheduled to be assembled at the factory between 2002 and 2004, each priced at $670,000.
But a final car was built and donated to Pope John Paul II and later sold to raise $1,275,000 million for charity, Lucero said.
"It's a shame this one is gone forever. When one of these is lost, it reverberates through the whole exotic car world," Lucero said.
Ferrari fan Wally Clark, a Villa Park insurance broker who owns two Ferraris — neither of which is an Enzo — said used Enzos fetch between $1 million and $1.5 million.
"I think the price went up another $100,000 with today's crash," he said.
The Enzo model "is a very serious car" whose 660-horsepower V-12 engine can accelerate from zero to 65 mph in about four seconds, Clark said. It can exceed 217 mph.
"They'll burn rubber in every gear. You need to know what you're doing if you drive them on the street. You can't be blowing past people at 180 miles per hour on the freeway. You'll cause chain-reaction crashes behind you. I don't know who the yahoos were in it. It's a damn good thing they weren't killed."
Die-hard Ferrari aficionados who viewed TV news footage of the crash said the Enzo's driver-safety system performed exactly as it was designed to.
"The car has a carbon-fiber tub seating area. The driver's compartment is made of this very tough, lightweight carbon composite and has tremendous seats that really hold you in place," said Times automobile critic Dan Neil, who drove an Enzo at Ferrari's plant in Italy.
"They're very unforgiving cars. High performance but merciless," Neil said.
Websites devoted to exotic cars followed crash developments breathlessly through the day, even posting digital photos and eyewitness accounts sent in by people who passed by the wreck.
Brooks said that no arrests had been made and that little was known about Eriksson. Detectives were also trying to determine whether he was the Stefan Eriksson who in the past has raced Ferraris on European tracks.
The Sheriff's Department impounded the shredded remains of the Ferrari as evidence. But Brooks said he retrieved one souvenir from the side of the road.
"I have the mirror from the car," he joked. "It's shattered, but I think it's worth $5,000. I'm going to hang onto it."
Detectives are also trying to find the driver of the Mercedes that they think was dueling the Enzo.
If their race theory is correct, it won't be the first time a Mercedes beat a Ferrari.
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