Car plunges off downtown Austin parking garage, injuring woman

Image from surveillance video of the crash. (Courtesy: Austin Police Department)

A woman is hospitalized after her vehicle plunges to the street from a 7th floor parking garage in Downtown Austin.

It happened around the intersection of East Sixth and Brazos Streets at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Police say the car fell off the parking garage and landed in an alley, hitting another car down below.

"The police officer said he saw the video and he said, 'luckily you were moving forward or else it would have landed right on top of you,'" said William Burch, who was driving his SUV in the alley below the parking garage. Burch was about to park and inspect a nearby construction project he's managing when he heard commotion up above.

"My window was down and I heard something really loud and abnormal, so I just started driving forward and the vehicle landed on the backside of the Tahoe," Burch said.

Burch was uninjured. The driver of the other car is hospitalized but expected to be okay.

"The retention cables didn't hold. The car went off the building, bounced off 515 Congress Avenue, fell and landed on a car that was going northbound in the alleyway before it hit the street," says Austin Police Department Cpl. Christopher Carlisle.

In September, another driver narrowly escaped injury in a similar scenario, but that time the garage's cables wrapped around the car's front axle -- dangling it in the air as the driver climbed out of the sunroof to safety.

According to the Austin Code Department, the garage has had three violations since 2014. Two violations involved the elevator and the third came after the retention cables were broken in the September incident.

"I'm not a structural engineer. I don't design buildings, but there seems to be something, a flaw," says Carlisle.

Code enforcement went back out to the garage Thursday to put up security fences since the 7th floor retention cables are still broken. They said they would likely urge the property manager to replace the cables with concrete barriers as long as the garage can structurally support that additional weight.

Code's Robert Moore said this time the cables stretched. He said they did not find any deficiencies in the cables, except for the fact that they allowed a car to go through.

According to city code, a parking garage barrier “vehicle barriers for passenger vehicles shall be designed to resist a concentrated load of 6,000 pounds." It does not specify what kind of barrier that should be.

In the last incident, code worked with the owner to install a new barrier and make sure it's safe. Moore said this time they'll work with the owner again.

“We’ll be keeping an eye on it, monitoring it until it’s brought up back to code until it’s safe again," Moore said.

Moore said they did not inspect other cable barriers on other floors after the first incident. He also said they do not inspect cable barriers on other parking garages throughout the city unless someone calls with a complaint.

“We don’t proactively go around looking at garages and anything in the city, I mean there’s probably a bunch of stuff we don’t know about but that’s why we urge our citizens to call it in so we can go out there and check it out," Moore said.

The owner of the parking garage released the following statement:

We regret the unfortunate accident that happened today in our garage and are thankful that no lives were lost.
A similar incident happened in September 2016 in the same garage, but on a different floor.
This morning, the car apparently hit the barriers at a rate of speed sufficient to break-through and hit the building across the alley.
The garage was built in 1979, and these are the only two such incidents since its construction 38 years ago.
After the previous incident, we engaged a structural engineer to review the situation, and repairs to the safety barriers were performed according to his recommendation. The City of Austin permitted and inspected such repairs to their satisfaction.
Premier Parking, the manager of the parking garage, manages over 400 parking locations across the United States, and they have not experienced anything like this in their 15-year history other than the previous incident.
Although all the facts of this accident are still being gathered, we will work to ensure the safety of our parking guests.

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