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Corvette crashes into 83-year-old’s house

An allegedly intoxicated man drove his Corvette into a Burbank home the evening of Sept. 24 on the corner of Alameda Avenue and South Lamer Street.
(Burbank Leader)

Within days of his pet canary of seven years dying, a Corvette crashed through Rene Zendejas’ home, forcing him to miss his birthday dinner.

“Bad things always come in threes,” said Zendejas, a puppeteer who has lived in Burbank for 59 years.

Insurance agents are estimating $60,000 in damage to his house.

Pat Leeper, a 63-year-old Burbank resident, crashed his Corvette into Zendejas’ home on the corner of Alameda Avenue and South Lamer Street around 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24.


Officials are still waiting on test results to determine Leeper’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident. He was cited and released on suspicion of drunk driving.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but police officials said Leeper had allegedly been drinking at work.

“The man was not drunk, just disoriented,” Zendejas said. “There is no way he was only going 35 miles per hour with the amount of damage he did to the house.”

Zendejas arrived from his studio on Main Street expecting to go out and celebrate his 83rd birthday. Instead, he encountered fire trucks on the street and a sports car embedded in his house.


“It’s a miserable situation,” Zendejas said. “But the worst part is the inconvenience of the whole thing — all the telephoning with the insurance company and the garbage that’s left to clean up.”

He had to seal off the living and dining rooms after the city building inspector cleared the structure.

Zendejas — a local Emmy-winner for his educational program for children, “Domingo,” that ran on ABC-TV in Los Angeles — had guests staying in his house who were in the backyard when the accident happened. He currently lives in the apartment on the back of his property.

There were no injuries to people at the scene of the crash beyond a few cuts treated at the scene, said Burbank Det. Paul Orlowski.

The biggest holdup is the repair of diamond-shaped wood-framed windows that will take four to six weeks to replace.

“I have to put it back the same way or else it will look tacky,” Zendejas said.

The house has remained in the family since his parents bought the house in 1951. As the owner of Rene and His Artists Puppet Productions, Zendejas has created puppets for McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz commercials. He first gained notoriety with live performances on Olvera Street in Los Angeles and his creations have appeared on a number of television shows since the 1950s.

None of his personal property or puppets were destroyed in the crash, but he still has not had a chance to go through the damaged rooms.


“It hasn’t occurred to me to sue the man because that just takes forever,” Zendejas said. “As long as they get everything replaced and the house is back in its proper shape, I’ll be happy.”

Zendejas has also purchased a new canary.