An elderly driver lost control of his vehicle and crashed into an outdoor seating area of a busy restaurant in Washington, DC, at lunchtime on Friday, killing two women and leaving three others with injuries life-threatening, authorities said.
A total of 11 people were injured, eight of whom were taken to hospital, according to rescuers, who said the crash appeared to be accidental.
The accident happened just after noon outside the Parthenon restaurant in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of northwest Washington, turning the popular lunchtime spot into a scene of mayhem.
Becky Pulles, 75, a retiree who lives in the area, said in a phone interview on Friday that she was having coffee outside a Starbucks near the restaurant when she saw the vehicle accelerate and crash.
“He was going so fast,” Ms Pulles said. “He just slammed into it.”
The vehicle jumped the curb and hit tables “in the blink of an eye,” she said.
As the coronavirus pandemic enters its third year, outdoor dining continues to be an attractive option for many restaurants and their customers. At the time of the accident, the weather was sunny and around 60 degrees, which would have made the restaurant’s sidewalk tables particularly inviting.
The driver, whose name has not been released, was driving down Connecticut Avenue when the momentum of his vehicle carried him onto the sidewalk, Cmdr. Duncan Bedlion of the Metropolitan Police Department said at a press conference.
The vehicle came to rest on the sidewalk, where mangled tables and wicker chairs were strewn. Rescuers credited other drivers with helping to bring attention to the accident.
“They honked,” Commander Bedlion said. “They flagged the officers, and we were able to get here right away and secure a scene. Of course, it’s very sad, a neighborhood where we know people have lunch every day.
The injured were between the ages of 30 and 80, Vito Maggiolo, spokesman for the DC Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services, said Friday. Authorities, who did not identify the victims, said the first 911 call came at 12:18 p.m.
Police said the driver of the crashed vehicle was cooperating with authorities.
“It really was an accident from what we can tell at this time,” Commander Bedlion said.
A man who answered the phone at the restaurant on Friday declined to comment on the crash, saying, “I’m worried about these people’s lives right now.”
Ms Pulles, a retired hotel catering manager, said a car pulled out of a petrol station near the restaurant as the driver of the crashed vehicle approached the block where the accident happened product.
“The person may have pressed their accelerator instead of their brake to avoid this car,” she said.
A friend having coffee with Ms Pulles rushed to help injured people, including an elderly woman trapped under the vehicle, Ms Pulles said.