SAN DIEGO (NewsNation Now) — At least three people were killed after a driver plowed into nine pedestrians in a tunnel in downtown San Diego near a community college, authorities said.
Multiple ambulances responded to the scene near City College around 9 a.m., where on a typical weekday morning, it is a busy area with students walking by. There is also a large homeless population in the vicinity.
The driver of a Volvo station wagon veered onto a sidewalk underneath a bridge and plowed into multiple people. Three people were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Several were badly hurt in the crash, including two who are in critical condition at a local hospital, said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit.
Craig Voss, 71, was heading through a tunnel underneath a community college campus when he drove his Volvo station wagon up on the sidewalk shortly after 9 a.m. according to Nisleit.
Voss was arrested at the scene. He faces three counts of vehicular manslaughter, five counts of causing great bodily harm and a felony DUI, Nisleit said, adding that Voss did a field sobriety test by a drug recognition expert. He did not elaborate or identify whether Voss was under the influence of alcohol or other substance. He said additional charges may be coming.
Nisleit said the driver was found trying to help one of the victims on the side of the road.
The deadly crash highlights the inherent risks to the homeless population in California, where their tents and tarps line not only downtown sidewalks but are near ramps where cars accelerate as they enter freeways.
More than 150,000 people are homeless statewide. The number has increased during the coronavirus pandemic that has upended the economy.
Mayor Todd Gloria said most, if not all of the nine people who were struck were homeless.
“They were there because they felt like they had nowhere else to go,” Gloria said. “This crash this morning did not have to be so devastating. Let me state it very clearly, a street is not a home.”
The mayor, who took office in December, said the encampment had been there awhile. More people Monday might have gone to the short tunnel under the San Diego City College campus because the cement bridge provided cover on a rainy day.
On a typical weekday morning it is a busy area with students walking by, but classes have been online during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gloria said the city needs to act now to address its homeless problem, and it was starting by offering shelter Monday to the other homeless people who were in the tunnel and escaped injury. A handful accepted. The city also sent mental health professionals to help.
“We want to make sure that they did not die in vain,” Gloria said of those who were killed.
But he added that the city is facing a shortage of beds at its shelters and he pledged to talk to state and federal officials to get more help, calling the current situation “not acceptable.”
“It’s not humane or safe to keep allowing our unsheltered neighbors to sleep under bridges, in alleys or in canyons,” he said.
Lisa Brotzman said she was peering out of a window in her tent just as the car swerved to the right shoulder, “spun out of control” and jumped onto the sidewalk in the tunnel where people were waiting out the rain.
“Someone was screaming, ‘Ahhh! Ahhhh!’” Brotzman told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Two or three people were yelling and screaming. It was scary.”
Police said they had received calls of a car driving recklessly in the area before the crash.
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NewsNation affiliate KSWB and the Associated Press contributed to this report.