VW Crash-Lands in Irvine Couple’s Patio

Times Staff Writer

Brent and Florence Howell were asleep in their Mill Creek home in Irvine about 1:20 a.m. Sunday when they heard what “sounded like a plane crash” in their back yard. What they found was not quite that spectacular, but it was close.

A Volkswagen Rabbit GTI, with two young men trapped in its front seat, was standing on its nose on their patio, with its rear end resting against a tree just outside the back of their house.

“That tree probably saved them from having the car crash right into the house,” Irvine Police Sgt. Tom Little said later.

It took more than an hour for Orange County Fire Department personnel to free the men from the car with a “jaws of life” hydraulic prying device, plus another 30 minutes for tow trucks to extract the car from the tree.


“It was more difficult than usual to use the jaws of life because of the way the car was angled,” Little said. The rescuers “had to fight gravity while they worked,” he said.

Suspicion of Drunk Driving

The driver, Jeffrey Berger, 19, of Irvine, was taken by helicopter to UCI Medical Center in Orange with leg injuries, then to its jail ward on suspicion of felony drunk driving. He was being held Sunday on $10,000 bail.

The passenger in the front seat, Christopher Tompkins, no age given, of Santa Barbara, was taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo, where his condition was serious but stable.

A passenger in the back seat, Ashley Harlan of Irvine, age also not listed, had minor injuries and got out through a window.

“It was really a miracle that she wasn’t seriously hurt,” Sgt. Little said. “But she was wearing a seat belt in the back seat, and our preliminary report shows neither of the two in front had on seat belts.”

Thought Plane Crashed

Police said that Harlan ran into the house for help but that the Howells, both 59, had already called police.

The Howells could not be reached for comment Sunday, but Little, who was at the scene, said they told police the noise of the accident was so great that they thought a plane had crashed.

Little said the car wreck apparently occurred when Berger lost control as he drove the Volkswagen down a hill on Starcrest, heading toward Turtle Rock Drive.

The car apparently jumped the curb next to the Howells’ back yard, which is just north of Starcrest, then crashed through to their patio.

Little said both the driver and the passenger appeared calm while talking with police and fire officials while being freed.

Little said: “How can I say this? There was a strong odor of alcohol coming from the car, and the two men appeared to be calm due to the state of their intoxication.”