San Jose police say 100-year-old Suzanne Infante died this morning from injuries sustained when a car driven by a 90-year-old woman accidentally crashed into Amberwood Gardens Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at about 9:45 a.m. Infante’s crushed wheelchair was among the wreckage at the scene. The first victim, 88-year-old Esther Bocanegra, was pronounced dead a few hours after the incident. Five others, four Amberwood residents and one staff member, were also injured, but all are expected to fully recover.
Amberwood Gardens is a skilled nursing facility that regularly houses as many as 250 residents, many of whom suffer from dementia.
Police are not releasing the name of the driver, who is reportedly “very distraught” after likely hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake and crashing into a common room at Amberwood which is often used as an exercise room. The driver, who was at the facility to visit a family member, is not being charged with a crime, but a California Department of Motor Vehicles representative told the San Jose Mercury News that it is very likely her license will be permanently revoked.
The issue of elderly drivers has been under debate for years and became a prominent topic of discussion in 2003 when 86-year-old George Weller drove his vehicle through a group of pedestrians at a Southern California farmers’ market, killing ten. Weller was sentenced to probation after being convicted on charges of vehicular manslaughter
Current California law requires residents aged 70 and older to renew their licenses in person. The law has not become more stringent since the 2003 Santa Monica tragedy, but there are tools people can use if they believe a senior is unsafe to continue driving, including notifying the DMV. The DMV can then require a new in-person exam.
“If we feel this person shouldn’t be driving anymore, we can order them to take the drivers’ test again,” San Jose police Sgt. Jason Dwyer told the Mercury News. “Officers don’t have the authority to revoke someone’s license. They have a right to due process.”
Many worry that the problem of elderly drivers is only going to worsen as Baby Boomers age, but seniors in Santa Clara County have some options to driving themselves. Outreach, a countywide non-profit organization, offers help to seniors needing rides. Additionally, the AARP offers driver education refresher courses.
Interested residents can contact Outreach at (408) 436-2865 or AARP at (888) 227-7669.