FAIRBANKS — Talk about a wild — and lucky — way to start the new year.
A 29-year-old Fairbanks man escaped serious injury early Tuesday morning after his vehicle slid through a stop sign at Cowles Street and First Avenue, crashed through a fence, sailed 20 feet through the air and landed nose first on the frozen Chena River.
The vehicle, a Pontiac G6 sports car, then rolled onto its roof where it came to a rest upside down.
Someone who was outside smoking a cigarette a block or two away heard the accident and called Fairbanks police about 7 a.m.
The unidentified driver, who was alone in the vehicle, was gone by the time police arrived. Based on tracks in the snow and an interview with the driver later in the day, police said the man exited the vehicle from the passenger door and ran toward the Fairbanks North Star Borough building before turning around and climbing up the bank back onto First Avenue.
Police contacted the owner of the vehicle, who told police his son was using the car the previous night.
“We told the owner to have his son contact us,” Officer Avery Thompson told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The man’s father called the police later in the day to tell them his son was at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital being treated for injuries related to the crash.
Thompson interviewed the driver at the hospital. Based on the interview and observations at the scene of the accident, Thompson said the driver was “going way too fast” when he tried to stop for the stop sign at the end of Cowles Street.
“He tried to stop 30 feet prior to the stop sign and slid through the intersection,” Thompson said.
The front end of the car hit a large rock positioned in front of a bench and the vehicle went airborne, taking out one of three benches on an observation deck overlooking the river and a section of decorative fence that parallels the river. The car landed nose first on the river ice 20 feet below and rolled onto its roof. The car was totaled in the crash.
Had the driver not been wearing his seat belt, Thompson said he likely would have been seriously injured or worse.
“He’s lucky,” Thompson said of the driver. “If he hadn’t been wearing his seat belt, he would have died.”
Alcohol was a factor in the crash, which still is under investigation, but Thompson said it’s doubtful any charges will be filed against the driver, though he could be cited for traffic violations.
It took two tow trucks about three hours to pull the vehicle off the ice and up the bank of the river, Thompson said. Workers from the city’s public works department put a temporary fence up to cover the section of fence that was destroyed in the accident.