Virginia Pavlina had to make a quick decision Friday.
The Los Altos Hills resident said her new Lexus IS 250 Sedan accelerated out of control as she approached Main Street from Second Street on a bustling afternoon in Los Altos.
After realizing her brakes weren’t working, Pavlina said her effort to steer clear of pedestrians led her to crash her car into U.S. Bank, located in the historical Shoup Building at 300 Main St.
“There was a man across the street standing in front of Starbucks about to cross, and all of a sudden my car took off,” Pavlina said in a phone interview from El Camino Hospital Monday morning. “I braked, but the brakes didn’t work. The car just went berserk. I had to make a quick decision.”
Pavlina, 83, sustained several injuries, but no one else was injured in the crash, according to Los Altos Police. Pavlina said she suffered a cracked sternum and two ribs, minor foot injuries and various abrasions from the seat belt she was wearing. She said she hoped to be released from the hospital by midweek.
Police won’t confirm whether Pavlina was the driver. If the accident, which occurred at approximately 3 p.m., is designated a crime, police will disclose the driver’s name. As of Monday, police deemed it an accident.
Police Chief Tuck Younis said the driver was fortunate she didn’t hit anyone.
“That time of day at that intersection – we’re very lucky no one was hurt,” Younis said.
Moments after the crash, a crowd gathered at the corner of Main and Second. Witness accounts varied, but many said that several pedestrians and cars came close to being hit. One witness said two children were sitting on the cement bench outside the bank when the car crashed in front of them.
Kari Dellaschiesa, a stylist at Outrage Salon, on Main Street, said she was crossing the intersection between the bank and Starbucks when the car sped past her.
“It just missed me,” she said. “There was no braking at all.”
Daniel Thomas, a U.S. Bank employee, said he was sitting with two clients approximately 20 feet from the door when the car hit.
“It was like a glass grenade,” he said.
Bank employee Tina Galvan said the car smashed into the building just before a customer she had served reached the door to exit.
The building suffered structural damage to its entrance, and the car pushed one of the heavy aesthetic rocks inside the bank across the tile floor. Marks from trajectory glass dot some of the bank’s wooden teller stations inside.
“I was so relieved when they told me no one was hurt,” Pavlina said.
An investigation to determine the cause of the wreck is under way. Lexus is part of Toyota, which has been under scrutiny the past year for acceleration problems in several newer models.
Whatever the cause, Pavlina said the accident has prompted her to reconsider driving.
“I don’t think I’ll be driving anytime soon,” she said. “Maybe it’s time for me to retire and let my family do the driving.”
The damaged building has historical significance and is included in the Historic Resources Inventory for the state of California.
It was the second structure built in downtown Los Altos, circa 1910, by Paul Shoup. Shoup, a former Southern Pacific Railroad president, is considered by some to be the founder of Los Altos. It first housed Robinson Grocery Store, and the second floor was used for community meetings. It has been occupied in recent years by banks. Before U.S Bank, Bay View Bank occupied the bottom floor.