A 81-year-old woman plowed her car through the front window of Jambo Café on Cerrillos Road during the lunch hour Thursday, forcing customers to dive out of the vehicle’s path and causing extensive damage to the popular restaurant. Four people were taken to the hospital, but none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.
Only debris from broken tables stopped the tires of the silver Subaru Forester from driving deeper into the restaurant, witnesses said. The driver kept her foot pressed on the gas pedal until she was removed from the car by the restaurant’s manager. The car came to a stop 25 feet into the cafe, where more than 30 people had been dining.
Police believe the woman, whose name was not immediately released, confused the gas pedal with the brake.
“The crash appears to be an accident,” Santa Fe police spokesman Greg Gurulé said in a statement. “But Santa Fe Police continue to talk with witnesses as they investigate the crash.”
A similar crash occurred in 2006 when a woman crashed into a Santa Fe medical clinic, killing three people.
Margaret Gutierrez, 52, a saleswoman at the Cato Fashions clothing store next door to Jambo, had tears streaming from her eyes as she watched at least 20 police officers and firefighters at the crash scene
Gutierrez said she was in the parking lot helping a customer when the woman driving the Subaru pulled into a handicapped-accessible parking space in front of Jambo, ramming forcefully into the sign post in front of the space.
“But then she floors it into reverse,” Gutierrez said, pointing to where the Subaru hit two parked cars, roughly 50 feet away — one of which had twisted diagonally out of its parking space from the impact. Then the woman returned the car to drive, Gutierrez said, accelerating through the restaurant’s front window and careering into dining tables.
Witnesses said the car flew in an arc through the air as it rammed into the building. Some described the car as appearing to back up and ram forward multiple times.
“We are screaming at her,” Gutierrez said. “I said, ‘Oh, God. All those people inside.’ It was scary.”
One diner was projected several feet through the room, witnesses said. Three diners were taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and appeared to suffer from broken legs and a back injury. The driver was also taken to the hospital for observation, according to police.
Swaleh Obo, a manager and co-owner at Jambo, was in the kitchen when the incident occurred. He said he first thought something had exploded in the kitchen but entered the dining room to see people screaming and running.
“I see the woman still pushing the accelerator and I had to grab her and pull her out” of the car, he said.
Obo said the woman didn’t speak to him afterward. “She was just quiet,” he said.
Manuel Munoz, a 21-year-old server, said he stopped in his tracks as the car plowed passed him inside the restaurant. He described the driver as calm and not panicked when removed from the vehicle and questioned by police.
“All of the employees are safe; nobody got injured,” Obo said, watching as the Subaru was removed from the restaurant by a tow truck.
No one was sitting at the tables by the window when the crash occurred, Obo said. “It’s crazy. God is great. … “It could have been a couple dead.”
The front end of the Subaru was crushed, with the headlights smashed, the gas tank exposed and deep gashes in the doors. Floral decorations from the restaurant were lodged in the windshield.
The dim restaurant was littered with glass. Part of the ceiling and a wall dividing the restaurant’s two rooms had been torn away. An African tapestry was ripped from one wall. Chairs lay scattered and misshapen. Splintered gold lanterns and decorations with dangling hearts, left over from Valentine’s Day, swayed in a breeze let in from where the glass storefront had been.
Patricia Alexandre said her granddaughterSariana Davila, 18, was walking past the door of Jambo with her headphones on when the car crashed into the restaurant.
“My granddaughter was five steps from the car when she crashed,” Alexandre said. She “came home and was crying and crying and crying. It was awful for her. The only thing she said is she [the driver] was calm.
Jim Torrence, who was in Santa Fe on business from Arizona, said he was picking up lunch at Jambo and jumped out of the way as the car smashed into the counter and into the spot where he had been standing. He described the car as driving at “full speed.”
“It’s my lucky day,” Torrence said.
As the ambulances and police cars shut off their blinking emergency lights and left the scene, the smell of gas and burnt rubber lingered.
On Facebook on Thursday afternoon, Jambo said it would have its food truck in front of the restaurant Friday, saying, “We are family. We are resilient and we will thrive.”