AUSTIN (KXAN) — The gripping surveillance video begins with an SUV making a slow turnaround in a downtown Austin alley, before suddenly braking as the driver hears a noise.
That driver, William Burch, had his window down and heard the noise — what he would soon find out was a BMW falling from a parking garage level, seven stories above, as seen in video released by the Austin Police Department on Thursday.
The BMW sedan crashes front-first into the pavement, before violently bouncing back on Burch’s Chevrolet Tahoe on July 13. The BMW then comes to rest on its roof, as nearby construction workers and bystanders come to the aid of the driver.
Police said the woman driving the BMW, who had serious injuries from the crash, mistook the gas pedal for the brakes and crashed through the parking garage barriers.
Christi Bowmer says she is still recovering.
Bowmer says the wires that serve as walls in the parking garage made her “freak out.”
“I realized that hey — there’s no barrier, there’s just four wires here. My foot slipped off the brake,” she said. “And I just went straight through the wires and hit the wall on the other side and I hit a gas line on the way down and I went seven stories down and it was horrific.”
Bowmer says she thought she was going to die. “I thought it was over. When I hit the ground. I just want to say thank you to all those people who helped me.
Burch was uninjured. He was on the phone with his mother when the BMW landed on his car. “I can just imagine what she was thinking when I had said, ‘a car just landed on me, I gotta go.’”
On Sept. 9, 2016, a 24-year-old man crashed through the barriers on the top level of the same parking garage. One of the barrier wires caught his SUV as it was falling and left his vehicle hanging precariously on the side of the garage.
The driver was able to escape with the help of a bystander.
The owner of the Littlefield Garage, located at 508 Brazos St., said these were the only two incidents of this kind they’ve experienced. KXAN reported the Austin Code Department issued the property a violation on Sept. 14, 2016, citing unsafe conditions, specifically unsafe barrier cable systems.
Safety improvements made since the incidents
After meeting with Austin Code, parking garage owner GTT Parking LP is making changes to improve safety, including looking into redesigning the entire cable system. Until then, temporary safeguards are in place on every level of the garage — plastic barriers filled with water that act as an extra buffer between cars and those cables.
“It is a little scary that it got two hurt. Two accidents,” Daniel Schuster told KXAN. It’s something he says he can’t help but think about as he pulls into the garage.
At first, he didn’t know what to make of the first incident last September.
“It kind of seemed like a fluke thing. I was coming into the office and I heard on the radio to avoid the intersection, the car had gone off a garage,” he said. But lightning struck twice. “The cables, I mean after seeing two cars go through you just kind of get nervous. You don’t want to hit the gas too hard, go off the edge.”
The seventh floor, where the July incident happened, is currently fenced off with caution tape. Austin Code says its made several visits to the site with the property owner’s representative, engineer, building official and city engineer. It was during those meetings the city determined the entire cable system will need to be brought up to current code.
A woman KXAN spoke with who uses the parking garage said, “Good to know they’re looking at a redesign and we need that. And I’m glad the barriers are in place, so at least we’re aware of what’s happening.”
Austin Code reports the property owner has been in contact with several engineering firms to perform the repairs and upgrades, with several proposals received last week. The city says since the deadline to get the garage into code compliance is later this month, the owner will need to file an extension, to accommodate the redesign.