01/29/2013 04:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Santa Cruz Wharf Accident: Student Driver Plunges SUV Into The Ocean

SANTA CRUZ -- A 16-year-old driver, his dad and their dog escaped injury Monday when their Toyota 4Runner smashed through the wooden railing on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and crashed into the water, police said.

The teen, who has a learner's permit, was pulling into a parking spot about 10:30 a.m., near lifeguard headquarters and facing east, when the SUV broke through the wharf railing and sailed about 20 feet down, splashing into the bay, Santa Cruz police Sgt. Jon Bush said.

The young driver said the accelerator on the 2004 4Runner pedal stuck, Bush said.

The father, son and a young dog were able to get out of the car, he said.

Firefighters said the father and son escaped through an open sunroof and window. They swam to a nearby platform on the side of the wharf while the dog swam to shore.

The two were sitting on a bench near lifeguard headquarters with bright yellow blankets over their shoulders as paramedics checked them out.

"It could have been a lot worse," Bush said. "But it ended well considering the circumstances."

Santa Cruz Fire, Harbor Patrol and police responded, as well as divers from Santa Cruz Fire and from a wharf crew. The divers were awaiting a special tow truck and were planning to hook a cable to the SUV and haul it up, authorities said.

The water is about 8 to 10 feet deep at that spot, firefighters said.

Several onlookers gathered on the wharf, peering over the side as divers worked. Pieces of the wharf's wooden railing, a water bottle and other items from the inside the SUV floated on the water.

A woman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration arrived and asked Santa Cruz Fire Battalion Chief Jason Hajduk how much oil might seep into the bay. He said it would be a small amount that they wouldn't be able to recover.

Mike Pauly said he was sitting on a bench beside Main Beach, reading the newspaper, when he heard a crash and looked up to see the last half of the dark-gray SUV dive into the water.

"It went under in seconds," Pauly said. "I looked at the guy next to me, and he looked at me and said, 'Was that a car?' Then I called 911."

In late 2009, Toyota recalled several of its vehicles due to problems with accelerator pedals, but the Toyota website does not list 4Runners among the list of late-model SUVs recalled.

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