12/16/2011

SUV crashes into Calif. Starbucks; 1 killed


San Gabriel Valley Tribune

FILLMORE, Calif. — A sport utility vehicle driven by an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy slammed into a Starbucks shop in Ventura County, killing an Iraq veteran and leaving two other customers with minor injuries, police said Wednesday.

Authorities were trying to determine why Michael Cedarland, 30, of Pasadena, crossed two lanes of traffic and traveled about 100 yards over curbs and through a parking lot before crashing into the side of the Fillmore coffee shop Tuesday night.

Sergio Mendez, who served in the Marines from January 2002 to January 2006 and was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait, was sitting in a leather chair when the vehicle crashed into the cafe and pinned him against a doorframe. He died four hours later at a hospital.

Assistant Fillmore Fire Chief Pat Askren told the Ventura Star that the inside of the shop "looked like a bomb went off."

The SUV ripped off part of a bathroom wall as it traveled through the building.

Investigators were looking into the possibility that Cedarland lost consciousness while driving. Police said drugs or alcohol do not appear to be a factor.

Cedarland suffered a small cut.

Askren told the newspaper that the vehicle went over a strip of landscaping, continued through the parking lot that runs parallel to the road, went between a pair of palm trees on another strip of landscaping, then hit the Starbucks.

Cedarland appeared shocked and distraught after the crash, Askren said.

The crash felt like an earthquake, said Vishva Bandhu, who was in the adjoining Little Caesar's Pizza at the time. When Bandhu went outside, he saw Mendez bleeding amid the wreckage and 15 to 20 people, some crying and calling 911.

After an autopsy, officials determined Mendez died of multiple blunt-force injuries and ruled the death an accident.

Cedarland said he couldn't remember anything from before leaving the road until after the crash, said Ventura County sheriff's Deputy Jerry Peterson.

Witnesses said he apparently didn't try to brake, Peterson added.

Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Cedarland remained on the job as of Wednesday. Initial indications were that Cedarland blacked out or fell asleep, he added.

"It appears to be an accident, a tragic accident," Whitmore said.

Shawn Haney, a Marine spokeswoman, told the Star that the victim's full name was listed in records as Sergio Raul Mendez-Burgos. During his time in the Marines, Mendez received a Combat Action Ribbon and Presidential Unit Citation.

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