An elderly Altadena motorist who drove his car into a crowded patio outside a Starbucks in El Monte on Friday night probably won’t face charges, authorities said Saturday.
In an accident reminiscent of the 2003 Santa Monica Farmers’ Market crash, Ted Kawashima, 85, apparently mistook his gas pedal for the brake, causing his car to plow into the sidewalk patio filled with patrons. He was attempting to park his Toyota Camry in a spot for handicapped drivers when the car surged forward, authorities said
One man and one woman were critically injured and eight others sustained minor injuries.
“At this point he hasn’t been charged with anything,” said El Monte Police Sgt. Richard Williams. “To be honest, it appears to be a simple mistake by an 85-year-old man and nothing criminal.”
Kawashima’s car ricocheted off the patio and back into the parking lot in the 11000 block of Garvey Avenue, finally resting atop a parked car, authorities said.
“We were fortunate more people didn’t have more serious injuries,” said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mark Savage. “To have no one killed was certainly good.”
Several ambulances and about 30 paramedics responded to the accident, which occurred just after 9 p.m.
“Our priority was to get the most injured transported as soon as we could,” Savage said. “There is a lot of quick work to be done by medical personnel, and the seconds count in situations like this.”
The two critically wounded victims were taken to County-USC Medical Center, and the others were taken to local hospitals, according to Ed Pickett, a supervising dispatcher for the county Fire Department. Their names were not released.
Police had trouble communicating with Kawashima, who was uninjured. He speaks only Japanese, so police summoned an interpreter.
The accident occurred three years after George Russell Weller, then 86, ignited a national debate on driving-age limits when his car crashed into Santa Monica’s crowded Farmers’ Market, killing 10 and injuring 63.
Weller also said he mistook his gas pedal for the brake. He pleaded not guilty to 10 felony counts of vehicular manslaughter and faces trial in September. Prosecutors contend that he could have tried to brake or turn the steering wheel to avoid going into the street market.
After a crash involving an elderly motorist in 1998, also in Santa Monica, then-state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) proposed a law requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to road-test motorists 75 and older.
Senior citizen groups fought the proposal and, ultimately, age was not mentioned in the law, which established a minimum vision requirement for a driver’s license and imposed behind-the-wheel testing if doctors or others report concerns about a driver’s physical or mental limitations.
Drivers older than 70 must obtain their licenses in person, rather than by mail.