The first car in a line of police vehicles responding to a call Monday morning collided on Scenic Drive with a sport utility vehicle, which sheared off the back end of the police car and sent both drivers to the hospital, police said.
The accident occurred at about 6 a.m., and forced the closure of Scenic between Bodem Street and Coffee Road for several hours. It forced hundreds of commuters to find alternate routes into and out of downtown.
The drivers, who were alone in their cars, were taken to Memorial Medical Center and later released. The driver of the car had a cut near the knee and the officer complained of some pain, according to Officer Scott Nelson of the Modesto Police Department.
"Anytime you see this type of damage to vehicles, we were very lucky they were not injured and did not have have any significant injuries," Nelson said. "They were both able to walk away from the collision and get out on their own. We're thankful both the officer and citizen got out with no major injuries."
Police said the officers were headed east on Scenic to back up another officer who was chasing a suspect, eventually arrested, on foot in northeast Modesto. The police cars ó there were at least two that were following the lead car ó had their lights flashing and sirens on when the lead car collided with a Ford Expedition.
The lead police car was driven by officer Lee Gaines, who has been with the department since July 2007. The Expedition, driven by Pablo Perez, of Modesto, was westbound, Nelson said.
The accident occurred east of Bodem and just after the eastern portion of a curve that has seen numerous accidents over the years, Nelson said.
The speed of each car, how they collided and if weather was a factor remained under investigation, Nelson said. He said it's believed alcohol was not a factor.
Perez could not be reached for comment.
Joanne Fairchilds, who was driving to work and was in the right lane alongside Perez, who was in the left, contended the officer was driving too fast. She said his car came out of the turn, slid out of control, and went sideways into the SUV's path.
She didnít say the road was slippery, but did add that there was mist in the air.
"He had his lights on and came whipping around the corner and we had no time to react," she said. "I was there on impact and heard the actual sound and all the debris falling everywhere.
"I looked in my rear view mirror, and I could see (the police car) spinning out of control."
The impact tore the trunk and back wheels off the car, and they ended up on the sidewalk on the south side of Scenic Drive near the crash site and in front of the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.
The rest of the car, with Gaines inside, skidded east up the road another 100 or so feet. It came to a rest in the left westbound lane.
Gaines was driving a Police Interceptor model of a four-door Ford Crown Victoria sedan.
The Expedition was badly damaged. Its front end was crumpled and there are broad scrapes along the driver's side doors.
Fairchilds, shaken by the accident, said she had nowhere to safely stop and continued just past Bodem before pulling over in a parking lot to gather herself. Seeing the officers tending to the scene and other cars behind her, she continued on to work.
"I'm all for the police officers doing their job, and they do have a dangerous job to do" Fairchilds said. "But still, they have to think about the safety of others."
Nelson said police are still trying to piece together the accident, but that it would be investigated like any other.
Officers sealed off a nearly 500-foot section of Scenic with yellow tape. They were seen throughout the morning collecting evidence, much of it strewn over the area.
Nelson said the investigation could take anywhere from a week to several weeks to investigate.
He said the department would take appropriate measures if the officer was found in fault. That could be additional training up to disciplinary action, he said.
The Modesto Police Department is trying to gather information about the crash. It's asking any witness to the accident to call Romel Cuellar of the department's traffic division at 652-1059. Nelson said the department simply is seeking information, and that nobody would be cited for leaving the scene.
Map showing approximate location of collision