Fleeing scene of Hemet crash, DUI driver causes head-on wreck

HEMET — Authorities last night arrested a man they allege plowed into and knocked down a light pole at the intersection of Florida Ave and Santa Fe St., before fleeing the scene and hitting two additional vehicles. The second, major injury crash happened on Stetson Ave., just west of Lyon Ave., about three miles from the first collision.

Several people and a dog were injured in the second crash, which left vehicle parts and debris spread across the roadway. The wreck forced officials to temporarily close the street while they investigated the crash, removed the wrecked vehicles, and cleaned up the extensive debris caused by the separate crashes.

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On Saturday evening, Feb. 15, City of Hemet Police and Fire, along with AMR and other emergency personnel, were dispatched to the intersection of Florida Ave and Santa Fe St. about 10:50 p.m., after receiving reports of a vehicle that smashed into and knocked down a concrete light standard. 911 callers reported the black SUV that struck the pole fled the area immediately after the crash.

When officials arrived at the scene they confirmed the SUV that hit the pole had fled the area prior to their arrival; however, they soon discovered the suspect who fled the scene left behind his front bumper with its license plate still attached to it.

Officials also found the destroyed light pole, which had toppled over onto a row of businesses and damaged the roofs of at least two of the connected offices.

City work crews assess a destroyed concrete light standard, which was sheared off at its base and fell onto the roof of a nearby business complex. John Strangis/EN Media photo

As officers were beginning to investigate the first crash, City of Hemet emergency dispatchers received another call reporting a multi-injury, head-on collision involving at least three vehicles in the area of Stetson and Lyon avenues. 911 callers reported at least one of the injured victims, a female passenger from one of the involved vehicles, was trapped inside the destroyed truck and could not get out.

When officials arrived at the second crash site they found three wrecked vehicles, described as a black Chevy Suburban, red pickup truck, and silver Jeep. All three vehicles had sustained major front-end damage, and the wrecked vehicles left the street blocked and impassable.

Officials found three wrecked vehicles at the scene of the second crash, after Jonathan Padilla, 24, fled the scene of a crash that knocked a light pole down onto several businesses. John Strangis/EN Media photos

Firefighters quickly confirmed one passenger inside the heavily damaged red pickup truck was trapped inside the mangled wreckage of her vehicle, while another injured driver also appeared to be trapped inside the silver Jeep. A third victim was found down in the roadway writhing in pain. It was not immediately known which vehicle the man had been in when the accident happened.

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While firefighters worked to free the injured and trapped occupants from the Jeep and pickup truck, the driver who fled the scene of the first crash before causing the second accident sat on a curb nearby watching the ongoing rescue efforts.

The man, who was later identified as 24-year-old, Jonathan Padilla, was seen repeatedly punching himself in the face and head and heard crying “I f—ed up, I f–cked up,” until a Hemet PD officer intervened to calm the man down. (See video from the scene of the two crashes below.)

Officers who investigated Saturday night’s crash determined the driver who fled the scene of one crash before causing a second, major-injury head-on collision was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. John Strangis/EN Media photo

According to witnesses at the scene, at least three victims from the two vehicles Padilla crashed into in the second collision were transported by ground ambulances to area hospitals, including one victim whose injuries were considered severe.

As the rescue efforts were continuing, a large black dog that was inside one of the vehicles when the crash occurred was found to be injured and could not walk. After the injured pup was pulled from its wrecked vehicle animal control officers responded to the scene to take the dog to a local animal shelter to receive treatment for its injuries. As of this article the dog’s condition was unknown.

An injured dog that was rescued from one of the wrecked vehicles is carried to safety. The pooch was later taken to a local vet by animal control officers. John Strangis/EN Media

During their subsequent investigation, officers determined Padilla was traveling on Florida Ave. when for an unknown reason he lost control of his SUV and plowed into the concrete light standard. The impact sheared the pole off at the base and knocked it down – where it fell onto and damaged the roof a nearby business complex.

After speeding away from the scene of the first crash, Padilla fled several miles to the area of Stetson Ave., just west of Lyon Ave., where he plowed head-on into the red pickup, causing a secondary collision with the silver Jeep.

Firefighters used the “Jaws of Life” to free an injured woman who was left trapped inside the mangled wreckage of a pickup truck she was a passenger in. John Strangis/EN Media photo

As their investigation continued, officers determined Padilla was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and arrested him. He was later transported to an area hospital for evaluation and treatment before officers booked him into Cois Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta on suspicion of driving under the influence and driving under the influence causing great bodily injury. Both are felonies.

It was not immediately known why Padilla was not charged with the initial hit and run, but additional charges could be added when the alleged suspect is arraigned.

Jail records indicate Padilla remains in custody on $50,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned at an unspecified court Feb. 20.

Hemet PD’s accident investigation is continuing and officers have asked that anyone with information regarding the collisions or who witnessed either of the crashes and has not yet provided a statement to authorities to contact Hemet PD at (951) 765-2400. Callers can remain anonymous.


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John Strangis/EN Media photos

EN Media video

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Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

Trevor Montgomery, 48, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News, (the now defunct) Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County and Mountain Echo in Shasta County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 29 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 16 grandchildren.

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