HEMET: Three hospitalized after 3-vehicle crash involving Hemet police vehicle

HEMET — Details are still emerging and officials have said very little after at least three people, including an on-duty Hemet police officer, were injured in a three-vehicle crash that CHP officials confirmed was possibly caused by street racing Monday, July 24.

The accident – that destroyed all three vehicles and left one almost beyond recognition – happened in the 3000 block of W. Stetson Avenue at the intersection of Kirby Street, in front of Seven Hills Golf Club, in Hemet.

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One vehicle involved in the crash, a Chrysler 300, was reportedly involved in a street race just before the accident happened. John Strangis photo
One vehicle involved in the crash, a Chrysler 300, was reportedly involved in a street race just before the accident happened. John Strangis photo

The major-injury traffic collision happened about 10 p.m., CHP Officer Mark Hendrickson said from the scene of the crash.

“We have a three vehicle collision including Hemet Police,” Hendrickson explained. “For right now we don’t know exactly who’s at fault or what all was involved (and) we’re still gathering witness statements.”

“For the time-being, we have three vehicles and all three parties were transported,” said Hendrickson.

When emergency first responders arrived at the scene of the crash, they located the three wrecked vehicles. Two vehicles, at least one of which – described as a Chrysler 300 – was believed to have been racing and possibly tried to flee from a traffic stop just before the collision happened, had smashed into a traffic signal pole.

Vehicle parts and debris were strewn across the road and intersection after the wreck. A steering wheel from one of the vehicles was found, broken in half, about 25 yards from where the two of the vehicles came to rest. Other debris was spread even further.

Numerous emergency first responders rushed to the scene of the officer-involved collision. John Strangis photo
Numerous emergency first responders rushed to the scene of the officer-involved collision. John Strangis photo

One driver from the Chrysler sustained major, traumatic injuries and was trapped inside the mangled wreckage of his car. After firefighters used the “Jaws of Life” to extricate the driver, he was transported to Hemet Ryan Airport where he was airlifted to Riverside University Health System’s trauma center in Moreno Valley.

Witnesses at the scene described seeing an Infiniti that was believed to have been racing the Chrysler flee from the area after the wreck. It was not known if the Infiniti seen leaving the area at a high rate of speed had been involved in the collision.

Both the officer and the other driver were transported by ground ambulance to area hospitals for further treatment. Both sustained moderate injuries, according to Hendrickson, who mentioned a fourth possible victim, but had no further details.

No updates were available regarding the officer’s or any of the other occupant’s injuries.

Smoke pours from one of three vehicles involved in a wreck involving a Hemet PD patrol vehicle. John Strangis photo
Smoke pours from one of three vehicles involved in a wreck involving a Hemet PD patrol vehicle. John Strangis photo

When asked about the cause of the crash and witness statements that the accident happened when the Hemet police officer possibly attempted to pull over two speeding vehicles that we reportedly racing, Hendrickson responded, “I heard that as well, but again, until we get all the pieces of the puzzle together, it’s a little (early) to determine.”

One area resident, who declined to be identified, later confirmed that street racing is a “major problem” on the stretch of road where the accident occurred.

“They race in this street every night,” the woman complained. “Every night they’re here.”

Joe Banuelos, who resides near where the accident occurred said he stopped at the wreck moments after it happened and he described the chaos at the scene in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

“I was driving away from the intersection when I heard a tremendous crash and saw what looked like flames shoot up into the air,” Banuelos said. “It was so loud I honestly thought it was a plane crash.”

Firefighters work to free a trapped driver from inside his vehicle. John Strangis photo
Firefighters work to free a trapped driver from inside his vehicle. John Strangis photo

“I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw the cars spinning to a stop and (debris) was still scattering everywhere,” Banuelos described.

Banuelos said he immediately turned his vehicle around and rushed back to the scene, where he saw one of the vehicles involved in the crash was a Hemet PD patrol vehicle.

“I left my granddaughter in the car and ran up to check on the officer,” said Banuelos. “I saw he was badly hurt. He was moaning, but it looked like he was unconscious and needed immediate help.”

“I saw smoke coming from one of the other two vehicles and someone, a man I think, was screaming for help. I was sure he was going to burn to death in the car,” Banuelos described.

Banuelos said as he turned to run back to his car so he could get his phone to call 911, several other officers were already arriving at the scene.

The driver of the Chrysler was airlifted to an area trauma center after he was freed from his destroyed vehicle. John Strangis photo
The driver of the Chrysler was airlifted to an area trauma center after he was freed from his destroyed vehicle. John Strangis photo

“Within moments, there were officers everywhere, running from vehicle to vehicle and trying to help everyone injured in the crash,” Banuelos said. “Fire fighters and paramedics began arriving a few minutes later. I knew there was nothing else I could do at that point so I went home, but I am so thankful to hear the officer survived.”

Although Banuelos said he did not see the crash or anything that led up to the incident, when asked about street racing in the area, he said, “Street racing and speeding in general” is a problem that needs to be “immediately addressed” by city and county public safety officials.

Banuelos said that just three weeks ago, two vehicles that were racing in the same area almost smashed into him as he was making a left turn from Kirby Street onto W. Acacia Avenue.

One of the vehicles, which Banuelos described as a small, red, pickup truck with red neon lights on its undercarriage was racing on the wrong side of the road. After nearly colliding head-on with his vehicle, the truck “spun out and went over a curb,” Banuelos said.

The driver of the truck fled from the scene after the near collision, according to Banuelos.

“I would be surprised if they were going less than 90 mph,” said Banuelos.

“I have lived in this valley for most of my life and I have never seen so many accidents, so many unnecessary deaths, so much speeding, racing and lawlessness on the road,” Banuelos lamented. “What is it going to take for the city and county to make some real changes to our roads throughout the area.”

“It seems like we can’t go two or three days at a time without reading or hearing about one deadly accident or another,” said Banuelos who concluded by saying, “Something has to change. Soon.”

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