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Originally published Tuesday, October 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Cars fly out of parking garage

A station wagon with a passenger but no driver smashed into another vehicle, and both went flying off a second-story open-air parking area...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A station wagon with a passenger but no driver smashed into another vehicle, and both went flying off a second-story open-air parking area on Seattle's Capitol Hill yesterday.

Two people were injured.

The vehicles fell between a taco establishment and a Mediterranean restaurant during lunchtime at the Harvard Market, a commercial development at Broadway and Pike Street that includes a QFC supermarket and a Bartell drugstore.

"We're lucky, very lucky," no one else was injured, said Officer Rich Pruitt, a Seattle police spokesman.

The 88-year-old male station-wagon passenger suffered "non-life-threatening injuries" and was taken to Harborview Medical Center, he said. A 34-year-old Seattle woman also was taken to Harborview with minor injuries from flying debris.

Pruitt said the woman who had been driving the station wagon parked it and went into Bartell's. Somehow, the car got into reverse and started traveling backward for 50 to 60 feet, striking the other car, a vacant sedan. Both cars shot out and fell to the ground below, Pruitt said.

A metal beam and a metal fence on the parking garage were torn off. The sedan flipped and landed on its top.

Jim Davis, a foreman for Johnson Electric who was working at a nearby store, said, "I heard the building rumble. I heard this lady [the driver of the station wagon] screaming, 'Oh my God, oh my God.' "

"We have a structural engineer going out there to check out the building," said Patti Miller, chief financial officer for Morris Piha Real Estate Services of Bellevue, which manages the complex.

In 1988, city planners considered requiring stronger barriers, able to withstand 3,000 pounds of force, for elevated parking garages. This came after a bizarre accident in 1987 in which an elderly man and his female passenger were killed instantly when their car hit a curb while descending the exit ramp at a downtown Seattle garage and fell 47 feet to the street and landed on another car, also killing its occupant.

It's not clear whether those recommendations were implemented.

The Harvard Market was built in the late 1990s, and Miller said she assumes it met city codes.

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Yesterday afternoon, a crowd watched as workers dealt with crumple vehicles at the scene, amid nine police cars, two tow trucks and four other city vehicles.

Bret Johnson, an apprentice electrician for Johnson Electric, captured a video of the scene on his cellphone.

"It was pretty crazy. ... Not quite the work day we set out for," he said.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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