A Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy remained hospitalized Monday, after losing control of his Ford Explorer SUV during a high-speed chase early Sunday and careening into a Bodega Bay home, causing a fire that destroyed the vacation rental.
Sgt. Spencer Crum said it’s the first time in his 22 years on the job that he’s aware of a deputy crashing into a house.
It’s not clear how fast the unidentified male deputy was driving when he was in pursuit and his patrol vehicle went over an embankment on Highway 1 near Smith Brothers Road. The predawn chase was an attempt to catch thieves suspected of swiping generators from a nearby campground, Crum said.
Crum declined Monday to provide any details about the deputy other than he suffered serious injuries.
Three tenants at the rental house, including a man from San Francisco and his father who was visiting from France, escaped uninjured before flames engulfed the house, authorities said.
Crum said it’s too early to determine if the deputy’s decision to pursue the vehicle traveling at speeds estimated to be between 80 and 100 mph on the curvy coastal highway violated the Sheriff’s Office’s pursuit policy. The policy includes considering road conditions, speed, the seriousness of the crime and its relationship to community safety.
“When you talk about the danger to the public, the pursuit was at the perfect time Sunday. ... The road conditions were clear with no traffic. We have to look at the weather conditions, the nature of the crime,” Crum said, adding that the CHP is investigating the incident. “We’re not in a position to rule if it was in policy or out of policy.”
The road was dry, but it may have been foggy, CHP Sgt. Dave Thomas said. The unusual chain of events began around 2 a.m. Sunday, when a deputy in an unmarked car was conducting surveillance at Doran Beach campground. At least five generators valued between $900 and $5,000 were stolen there the past two weeks, Crum said.
The deputy, whose seat was reclined, saw two people in a white sedan drive into the campground around 2:45 a.m., turning into areas with locked gates and walking around in dark clothing.
At around 5 a.m., a second car drove in, though the deputy couldn’t see its make and model, Crum said.
The white sedan left shortly after that, and the deputy alerted two marked patrol cars waiting at the exit, Crum said. However, the sedan apparently pulled into a turnout, and one of the deputies at the park exit instead pursued the second car — a Honda Pilot that turned northbound on Highway 1, Crum said.
It wasn’t clear if the deputy activated the Ford Explorer’s lights and sirens during the chase, which lasted less than a minute, Crum said.
The deputy’s vehicle crossed the southbound lane and hit the corner of the home in the 600 block of Highway 1.
The deputy’s vehicle went “right under” one of the bedrooms, said Timothy Farfan, who co-owns the home and the Sonoma Hotel. The collision appeared to have stopped the vehicle from plunging into the bay about 60 feet below, Bodega Bay Fire Capt. Lou Stoerzinger said.
The deputy freed himself from where the car was lodged in the side of the house, and stood in the road to flag down the second patrol car, Crum said. The second deputy kicked down the home’s door, which was jammed shut from the crash and helped the occupants out as smoke began to surround the car.