Alert guide dog helps trio escape car on sidewalk
A mid-morning stroll in downtown San Rafael nearly turned disastrous when a 93-year-old woman drove backward down a sidewalk, narrowly missing two employees and a dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind.
“It was just an unbelievable sight to see something going backwards, barreling down the sidewalk,” said Todd Jurek, a training supervisor for Guide Dogs for the Blind. He quickly herded the fellow employee and dog out of harm’s way when he noticed the dog jerk its head to look behind them.
The dramatic scene, captured on video by a private security camera mounted on a nearby building, can be viewed at www.marinij.com.
The incident occurred at about 11:30 a.m. Monday, when Jurek and Danielle Alvarado, an apprentice instructor, were walking on Fourth Street near E Street with an 18-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, O’Neil.
Jurek, 48, of Petaluma, said he was spotting Alvarado, who was blindfolded, and assessing O’Neil’s guide dog skills when he noticed O’Neil turn around to look behind him. When Jurek looked back to see what had caught O’Neil’s attention, he saw a black car headed straight for them.
The surveillance video shows the three walking down Fourth and then Jurek running and pushing Alvarado around an E Street corner seconds before a black car speeds backwards down the sidewalk, smashing a store window and finally coming to rest on the opposite corner of Fourth and E streets.
Jurek said he heard the glass window break, but it was O’Neil who turned his head first to see what was happening.
“He probably heard the commotion before the window popped,” Jurek said.
As the car tore down the sidewalk, it hit a city bench, nicked a stop light and barely missed colliding with another car. Jurek said he just grabbed Alvarado and yelled “go, go, go!” as one of the car’s doors came off and pieces of the vehicle flew everywhere.
“My thought was, is this car going to continue around the corner and are its debris going to fly at us?” Jurek said.
Miraculously, no one was injured in the incident, including the driver and her passenger, Jurek said.
San Rafael police Sgt. Raul Aguilar said the driver of the car, a San Rafael resident, is not suspected of intoxication and did not appear to have a medical emergency before the incident.
The investigation is continuing, but the preliminary theory is that the woman put the car in reverse instead of forward, and the angle of the wheels sent her up on the sidewalk, Aguilar said.
The police department is requesting a reexamination of the woman by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Jurek, who has worked for Guide Dogs for 21 years, called
the incident a one-in-a-million event in which both the dog and handler responded correctly — with O’Neil turning back around to help move Alvarado out of harm’s way, and Alvarado not letting go of the dog’s leash.
“You can’t train a dog for such a dramatic incident,” Jurek said.
O’Neil underwent additional traffic training and testing Tuesday, just to confirm he wasn’t traumatized by the incident. Jurek said the courageous canine is in the midst of his final testing and will soon be protecting one of the Guide Dog’s blind or sight-impaired clients.
“He’ll get placed with someone likely in the next two or three weeks,” Jurek said.
~ Courtesy of Mercury News