08/22/2007

Calif. officer, explorer hurt in DUI crash

By Marilyn Dubil
The Gilroy Dispatch

MORGAN HILL, Calif. — A Morgan Hill police officer and a member of the department's Explorer program were taken to the hospital late Saturday night after a drunk driver headed the wrong way on Monterey Road barreled into their patrol car in what was almost a head-on collision.

Officer Josh Norris and explorer Danny Davis were both taken by ambulance to Saint Louise Regional Hospital as a precaution after the 11:25pm crash and later released.

In the same area just north of downtown where officers were earlier investigating a possible assault with a deadly weapon, the crash grew crowds of onlookers before police strung yellow crime scene tape around the area, cutting off both the south- and northbound lanes of Monterey Road for more than an hour.

According to California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Armstrong, Norris was driving the patrol car southbound just north of Wright Avenue approaching the intersection, when a white 1994 Ford Taurus turned left from Wright Avenue into the southbound lanes. Norris swerved right in an attempt to avoid the wrong-way Ford, but the civilian car smashed into the left side of the patrol vehicle, bending axles and knocking tires off their rims.

Antonio Gonzalez 55, of Morgan Hill was booked into Santa Clara County Jail on felony DUI charges, as well as felony hit and run, Armstrong said. Gonzalez was driving without a license, he added.

Another MHPD officer, acting Cpl. Ken Howard, was nearby, and, as dispatchers quickly notified fire and paramedics, as well as CHP and Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office deputies, he helped chase down Gonzalez and his two passengers who tried to run from the scene.

MHPD Chief Bruce Cumming said Howard was slightly injured detaining the suspects, "typical police officer bumps and bruises," but did not seek medical attention.

David Chavez, 23, of Morgan Hill, was also booked into county jail. He was arrested on suspicion of being drunk in public, alleged possession of a controlled substance, battery of a peace officer and resisting arrest. A taser was used to subdue him. He was treated by paramedics at the scene, transported by ambulance to Regional Medical Center in San Jose and later booked into the jail.

Strobing emergency lights from a legion of law enforcement vehicles and emergency response vehicles cast an eerie light on the faces of spectators gathered at the entrance to the Morgan Hill Apartments on the east side of Monterey Road and Royal Courts Apartments on the west side. The three suspects, hands cuffed behind their backs, lolled from side to side as they sat on the curb, surrounded by officers and paramedics.

The accident, which totaled a new police car that just rolled out of the garage several weeks ago, was one of many incidents involving alcohol over the weekend.

According to Cumming, a pickup truck crashed into a light pole at the corner of Llagas Avenue and Hale Avenue, almost toppling the pole.

Four people were arrested on suspicion of being drunk in public on Friday night, two of them passed out in a car outside of the StriXe lounge, two of them in other locations.

"This crash kind of highlights this whole issue," Cumming said Monday. "We saw a spike in drunk driving this weekend, but this crash is illustrative of the severity of the problem we have. We see an inordinate amount of drunk drivers for a city this size. Apparently we're going to have to toughen up."

Copyright 2007 The Gilroy Dispatch

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